Nigerian soldiers reportedly killed “at least 300” Shiite Muslims in the clampdown that began on December 12 in Zaria, Kaduna State,New York-based rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Wednesday.
HRW claimed that the soldiers disposed of hundreds of bodies by throwing them in mass graves, making it difficult to establish an accurate death toll, according to HRW.
The violence erupted on December 12 when members of the minority Shiite group erected a makeshift road block during a religious procession, blocking the path of Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.
“It is almost impossible to see how a roadblock by angry young men could justify the killings of hundreds of people,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.
“At best it was a brutal overreaction and at worst it was a planned attack on the minority Shiite group.”
But the Nigerian army has denied HRW’s charges. Army spokesman, Sani Usman, told AFP: “The allegations are not true.
“It is therefore presumptuous and clearly out of context for anyone to make such unsubstantiated allegations or comments,” said Usman.
“The incident between the Nigerian army and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria has been reported to the appropriate agencies who are investigating the issue.”
Last week, the Nigerian government set up a judicial commission to investigate the deaths.
The Nigerian army had accused the Iran-backed sect of “a deliberate attempt to assassinate” Buratai, releasing footage of the crowd hurling stones at his military convoy.
The allegations come amid fears that the violent clashes between the Shiite group and Nigeria’s army will unleash a new Islamic threat in a country still battling Boko Haram militants.
The sect’s leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, the charismatic founder of the group, was seriously wounded and remains in police custody, while his deputy was killed in the army crackdown.