The Nigerian Army has reportedly slaughtered hundreds of members of Nigeria’s Shi’a religious minority in the northern town of Zaria. Quartz reports:
According to the official accounts of the military, members of the Shiite group blocked the route of the army chief’s motorcade thus prompting a confrontation. The army claims that the group attacked with ‘crude weapons’ and fearing that the life of the army chief may have been in danger, lethal force was used to clear a route of escape for the army chief. But that was not the height of the violence as the military claims that in a bid to maintain peace, soldiers went to known Shiite bases in the city where it claimed the members of group were ‘mobilizing and attacking security forces’. The army reported the incident as an attempt to assassinate the army chief.
However, accounts by members of the Shia group paint a different picture. They claim they were attacked by the Nigerian army who killed hundreds in what has been called a massacre. The army says the group’s main base was destroyed by the military while the leader of the group, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is in custody of the military. While the military claims El-Zakzaky is safe, pictures have emerged showing the leader bloodied and with visible evidence of bodily harm. It is not the first time the army has clashed with the Shiite group as three sons of the group’s leader were killed by soldiers in bloody protests last year.
This comes as another sign of the deepening crisis in Nigeria. The nation is already struggling with Sunni-Christian tensions, the Boko Haram insurgency, and a resurgent Igbo independence movement. Now the—at a minimum—trigger-happy Army may have inflamed yet another internecine problem. We don’t know the ethnic or religious composition of these soldiers, and it’s a sign of just how poor Africa coverage is in the mainstream press that there are no reliable reports giving us that information. But it’s possible the killing reflects tensions between the country’s Shi’a minority and some other religious, political, or ethnic group—or, at the least, between the Shi’a and the country as a whole.
The incident may also reflect the increased globalization of religious conflicts. Boko Haram, a Sunni insurgency, already claims allegiance to ISIS, the global leader of radical Sunni Islam. Nigeria may also now have a problem with internationalized Shi’a tensions, as Iran has intervened in the wake of these killings to call for an explanation, asserting its role as the worldwide head of Shi’ism. As the Telegraph reports:
The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, has demanded an explanation by the Nigerian government for its crackdown on the Shia Muslim sect led by Ibrahim Zakzaky, a Nigerian preacher who is a devoted follower of Iran’s late Ayatollah Khomeini.
Something to keep an eye on: How long before the increasingly activist Christians in the “God belt” across Africa’s center also start looking to forge international links as they fight sectarian wars? If this should happen, the risks of a regional sectarian conflict would grow significantly.