Nigerian security forces kill eight at Shi'ite march, participant says

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian soldiers and police on Tuesday shot dead eight Shi'ites who were taking part in a religious procession along a major road in the federal capital Abuja, according to a member of a banned Shi'ite group who was taking part in the event.

Police and army spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The procession to mark the Shi'ite religious ritual of Arbaeen was organised by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a group that was banned by the government in 2019 after protests against the detention of its leader. Security forces have opened fire at previous IMN events.

Abdullahi Muhamed, an IMN member, said participants were walking peacefully along the Abuja-Kubwa expressway when a combined team of police and soldiers fired tear gas and live bullets at them.

He said eight people were shot dead and two were taken away by the security forces.

Videos and images posted on social media and published by Nigerian news websites showed bodies lying on the ground and people running from what appeared to be clouds of tear gas. Reuters could not independently verify the material.

Muslims make up about half of Nigeria's population of 200 million. But the overwhelming majority of them are Sunnis, and the small Shi'ite minority have long complained of discrimination and repression.

The IMN leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, was released from detention after being acquitted in July of eight criminal charges including aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.

Zakzaky and his wife had been in detention since 2015, when they were arrested after a clash in which the army killed an estimated 350 people at an IMN compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in the northerly Kaduna State.

Since his release, Zakzaky has met with supporters who survived the 2015 clash, which was widely reported in the Nigerian media.

Arbaeen marks the end of a 40-day religious mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

(Reporting by Abraham Achirga, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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