October 12, 2016 - 10:48 AM
YOLA, Nigeria - A newly outlawed Shiite group says 13 of its members were killed Wednesday as security forces and "paid thugs" attacked religious gatherings in multiple locations in northern Nigeria. Officials said they could not confirm any deaths.
The Iranian-inspired Islamic Movement in Nigeria said in a statement that nine people were "killed instantly" when police opened fire on a procession in Funtua, Katsina state, held for Ashoura, a holiday marking the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.
Witness Mallam Hussaini told The Associated Press he counted 10 dead.
"They just opened fire on us, unprovoked, and already 10 have been killed. Their corpses are here lying on the ground," Hussaini said.
Katsina police spokesman Salisu Abubakar Agaisa said the casualty figures were unconfirmed but noted that security forces were authorized to break up Ashoura gatherings, which have been banned as well.
Nigeria is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims, most of them Sunni. Tensions with the Shiite population are high after the army gunned down more than 300 people in an attack last December on the Islamic Movement in Nigeria's headquarters in Kaduna state.
The government has said the group provoked the attack, with the military accusing it of trying to assassinate the country's army chief — a claim that human rights groups have called unbelievable.
The group's leader, Ibraheem Zakzaky, has been in custody since December. Last week, Kaduna officials declared the group to be unlawful, and on Sunday they ordered the arrest of its spokesman.
In addition to Wednesday's clashes in Funtua, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria said three members were killed in Kaduna when "armed paid thugs" attacked them and burned down their centre with the help of security forces. Soldiers also attacked an Ashoura procession in Jos, and members were arrested in Kaduna, Jos and Kano, according to the group's statement.
Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016