The mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by Nigerian troops has been exposed by human rights organisation, Amnesty International, with the group claiming that soldiers burned people alive, razed buildings and dumped bodies in mass graves.
In its report, released under the name Unearthing the truth: Unlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria, Amnesty documented shocking eyewitness accounts of atrocious acts conducted by the Nigerian military, with authorities attempting to conceal the massacre from the public eye.
“The true horror of what happened over those two days in Zaria is only now coming to light. Bodies were left littered in the streets and piled outside the mortuary. Some of the injured were burned alive,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa at Amnesty International.
Approximately 350 people were suspected to have been killed by the military between December 12 and 14, 2015,following a confrontation between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna state in the northwest of the country.
Excessive and unnecessary use of force
Following an initial confrontation, troops were said to have fired indiscriminately at IMN supporters who sought to protect the residence of their leader, Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky, as well as their headquarters, known as the Hussainiyya.
While troops claimed that their convoy was attacked by supporters of the IMN in a bid to assassinate the chief of army staff, members of the IMN denied this.
Amnesty International indicated that the deaths were the consequence of excessive, and arguably, unnecessary use of force on the part of the soldiers.
On December 13, two buildings within Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky’s compound, one of which was being used as a makeshift medical facility and mortuary, were attacked by soldiers.
A 22-year-old student, only identified as Alyyu, was shot in the chest outside the compound and was taken inside for treatment.
“There were lots of injured people in several rooms. There were dead bodies in a room and also in the courtyard. Around 12:00-13:00 soldiers outside called on people to come out, but people were too scared to go out. We knew they would kill us. Soldiers threw grenades inside the compound. I saw one soldier on the wall of the courtyard shooting inside,” Alyyu was quoted as saying.
Footage, believed to have been shot on mobile phone by IMN supporters after the incident, showed bodies with gunshot wounds and charred bodies strewn around the compound.
See the video below. (Please note: GRAPHIC CONTENT)
Following the incident, the military sealed off the areas around al-Zakzaky’s compound, carrying away bodies, razing sites and clearing bullets and spent cartridges from the streets.
A witness described to Amnesty International what he saw outside the hospital mortuary on the evening of December 14: “It was dark and from far I could only see a big mound, but when I got closer I saw it was a huge pile of corpses on top of each other. I have never seen so many dead bodies. I got very scared and run away. It was a terrible sight and I can’t get it out of my mind.”
Amnesty International spotted and visited a possible mass grave near Mando, with satellite images of the site taken on November 2 and December 24, 2015, showing disturbed earth spanning an area of approximately 1 000 square metres.
“It is clear that the military not only used unlawful and excessive force against men, women and children, unlawfully killing hundreds, but they made considerable efforts to try to cover-up these crimes,” said Belay.
“Four months after the massacre the families of the missing are still awaiting news of their loved ones. A full independent forensic investigation is long overdue. The bodies must be exhumed, the incident must be impartially and independently investigated and those responsible must be held to account.”