By Kingsley Omonobi & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA – Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, also known as Shi’ites, and a combined force of the Nigerian Army and police, yesterday, engaged in a bloody clash which left some dead and many injured.
Trouble was said to have started as the Shi’ites poured into the FCT from all major routes leading to the city centre to observe the Arbaeen mourning procession, despite warnings from security agencies not to do so.
The latest clash, which was still on-going at press time, started at about 4:35pm, following a procession embarked upon by members of the religious group.
Vanguard gathered that the group, which started its procession at Mararaba, Nasarawa State, was heading to Nyanya, the adjourning town between Nasarawa and the Federal Capital Territory, towards Abuja City, when soldiers on duty ordered them back.
It was learned that the group’s members resisted the directive as they engaged the soldiers in an argument which resulted in a commotion.
It was gathered that the Shi’ites started pelting the soldiers with stones, resulting in the latter responding with gunshots.
Some of the sect members were said to have been killed, while several others sustained injuries.
Residents were seen scampering for safety, as motorists plying the routes linking Abuja were seen making detours towards Mararaba in Nasarawa State for safety.
A witness who pleaded anonymity, said the security men opened fire on the Shi’ite members.
Consequently, commuters were stranded in most routes in the FCT, as commercial vehicles deserted the streets to avoid stray bullets.
An eye-witness said at least 16 people were killed, while scores were wounded after Shi’ite protesters attempted to break a barricade of Nigerian soldiers around the flyover in Karu.
According to the witness, while some of the deceased died after being rammed into by cars driven by panicked drivers, most of them were hit by bullets.
“They have killed about 16 to 22 people. Bodies are everywhere, they are everywhere without anyone even attempting to evacuate them,’’ the witness said.
The witness said soldiers were responsible for most of the deaths, attributing only about four to persons rammed by speeding vehicles or an elderly woman who fell and hit her head against the median while scampering for safety.
“Yes, the soldiers were killing the people, they said they wanted to break their barricade near the overhead bridge in Karu.
‘’I cannot say how many people were killed, but they are so many and bodies are still on the main road and streets.”
Spokesman of the group, Abdullahi Musa, said an IMN member overheard a soldier attached to the Guards Brigade at Kubwa checkpoint along Karu – Abuja expressway, saying orders had been given “from above” that the military should engage the Shi’ites in a battle.
“Our attention has been drawn to a statement made by a member of Guards Brigade at (his duty post) Kubwa check point along Karu-Abuja expressway that they are waiting for the followers of Sheikh Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, because they have an order from above to engage them,” Musa said in a statement.
He vowed that the group would not be intimidated to give up its demand for the release of Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, its leader.
But reacting, last night, spokesman for the Brigade, Capt. Timothy Tagwai, who was in company of the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General UT Musa, said troops had brought sanity back to the road up to Kugbo area, adding that they were still moving towards the Nyanya area to do same.
Asked if there had been casualties since reports of gunshots were reportedly heard in some places, Captain Taigwai said no record of casualties had got to him.
Regarding the other protest from the Kubwa-Dutse-Alhaji axis of the Abuja-Kaduna road, Captain Tagwai said he was yet to be briefed of any casualty figure either.
He noted that troops were doing their very best to restore normalcy to the area, and clear the roads.
Police sources contacted on the issue said the operation was an Army operation to stop the protesters entering the city to cause mayhem, adding, however, that policemen were on the alert to arrest any protesting Shi’ite member who sneaked into the city centre to cause disturbance.