Nigerian troops on Monday evacuated the bodies of Shiite Muslims killed in two days of clashes with the army in northern Zaria, home base of the pro-Iranian group, its spokesman and residents said.
The army carried out crackdowns on Saturday and early Sunday against the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) led by Ibrahim Zakzaky, whose whereabouts were unknown, they said.
“We have reports that bodies of our members killed outside the house of our leader are being evacuated in trucks by soldiers,” IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa said.
The IMN, which seeks to establish an Islamic state through an Iranian-styled revolution, has been at loggerheads with Nigeria’s secular authorities, leading to occasionally violent confrontations.
The group’s spokesman said the victims of the violence included Zakzaky’s wife, son and the former IMN spokesman.
“We can’t give a precise figure of the deaths but it is huge given the number of the members that answered the call to protect the house from the invading soldiers,” he said.
“I can confirm that the wife of our leader Zeenat Ibrahim and her son Ali were among the dead. Our national spokesman Ibrahim Usman was also killed,” he said.
The group’s leader has periodically been incarcerated for alleged incitement and subversion.
Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim and largely Sunni.
Musa said the whereabouts of Zakzaky were unknown.
“We have been getting conflicting reports with some saying that he has been taken away by soldiers while others are saying that he has been killed,” he said.
Witnesses also spoke of soldiers removing bodies around Zakzaky’s house.
“This morning, soldiers started evacuating corpses of followers of Zakzaky in trucks for possible disposal,” resident Bashir Bello said.
“A large number of his followers were gunned down around his house on Saturday through Sunday morning where they had congregated to protect the house from military invasion,” he said.
He said soldiers had mounted security checks as residents and motorists were being searched before entering the area.
The latest violence was sparked when Shiite faithful on Saturday blocked the main road outside their Husseiniyya religious centre, where hundreds had gathered for a ceremony.
The military claimed the Shiites attacked the convoy of the army chief, Yusuf Buratai, which left soldiers no option but to retaliate.
The group however denied the claim.