Nigeria's Army Tried to Cover Up Shiite Massacre, Amnesty Says

  • Troops removed blood stains and hid bodies in mass grave
  • Rights group calls for independent forensic investigation

An attempt by Nigeria’s army to cover up the killing of more than 300 Shiite Muslims in the city of Zaria by hiding their bodies in a mass grave shows an “utter contempt for human life and accountability,” Amnesty International said.

“The true horror of what happened over those two days in Zaria is only now coming to light,” Netsanet Belay, Africa director at the London-based rights group, said in an e-mailed statement Friday. “Some of the injured were burned alive.”

“A full independent forensic investigation is long overdue,” Belay said.

After attacking the compound of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, in December, troops sealed off the area to take the bodies away, remove rubble and spent cartridges, and wash off bloodstains to cover up the incident, according to Amnesty.

The group said it has visited the location of a possible mass grave near Mando, a suburb of the northern city of Kaduna. Satellite images of the site taken between November and December show a large area of disturbed earth and the destruction of buildings and mosques.

The confrontation began when soldiers accused members of the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria of setting up an illegal roadblock and trying to assassinate the nation’s chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai, as his convoy drove past the sect’s headquarters. After an argument, the army regrouped and returned to attack El-Zakzaky’s compound as well as other Shiite locations in town, Amnesty said, citing accounts by eyewitnesses and local officials.

An official of the Kaduna state government told a judicial committee earlier this month that 347 bodies were collected from the hospital mortuary and an army depot in Zaria and buried secretly in a mass grave on the night of Dec. 14. The Shiite group says that at least 350 people still remain unaccounted for, according to Amnesty.

Nigerian army spokesman Sani Usman didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone. The army is expected to give evidence on April 25 at a hearing instituted by the Kaduna state government.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. The north is overwhelmingly Sunni, with a minority of Shiites estimated at three million people, mostly followers of El-Zakzaky.

While some were killed by indiscriminate shootings, others appeared to have been deliberately targeted, including women and children, Amnesty said in the statement.

“The bodies must be exhumed, the incident must be impartially and independently investigated and those responsible must be held to account,” Belay said.