FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Military cover-up of mass slaughter at Zaria exposed

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26 Apr 2016
[International Secretariat]

Mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by soldiers in Zaria and the attempted cover-up of this crime demonstrates an utter contempt for human life and accountability, said Amnesty International as it publishes evidence gathered on the ground revealing how the Nigerian military burned people alive, razed buildings and dumped victims’ bodies in mass graves.

The report, Unearthing the truthUnlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria, contains shocking eyewitness testimony of large-scale unlawful killings by the Nigerian military and exposes a crude attempt by the authorities to destroy and conceal evidence.

“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, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa.

“Our research, based on witness testimonies and analysis of satellite images, has located one possible mass grave. It is time now for the military to come clean and admit where it secretly buried hundreds of bodies.”

More than 350 people are believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military between 12 and 14 December, following a confrontation between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna state.

IMN supporters - some armed with batons, knives, and machetes - had refused to clear the road near their headquarters, the Hussainiyya, for a military convoy to pass. The army has claimed that IMN supporters attacked the convoy in an attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff. IMN members deny this.

Following an initial confrontation the military surrounded other locations where IMN supporters had gathered, notably at the residential compound of IMN leader. Some people were killed as a result of indiscriminate fire. Others appeared to have been deliberately targeted.

All available information indicates that the deaths of protesters were the consequence of excessive, and arguably, unnecessary use of force.

Children injured and killed

Zainab, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, told Amnesty International: “We were in our school uniforms. My friend was shot in her forehead.” A 10-year-old boy told Amnesty International how his older brother was shot in the head as they tried to leave the compound.

Shot and burned alive

On 13 December Alyyu, a 22-year-old student 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 12-1pm 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.”

As soldiers set fire to a facility that afternoon, Yusuf managed to escape despite serious gunshot wounds: “Those who were badly injured and could not escape were burned alive,” he told Amnesty International. “I don’t know how many of the wounded were burned to death. Tens and tens of them.”


After the incident the military sealed off the areas, the Hussainiyya and other locations. Bodies were taken away, sites were razed to the ground, the rubble removed, bloodstains washed off, and bullets and spent cartridge removed from the streets.

Witnesses saw piles of bodies outside the morgue of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria. A senior medical source told Amnesty International that the military sealed off the area around the morgue for two days. During that time he saw army vehicles “coming and going”.

Amnesty International identified and visited the location of a possible mass grave near Mando. Satellite images of the site taken on 2 November and 24 December 2015 show disturbed earth spanning an area of approximately 1000 square metres. Satellite pictures also show the complete destruction of buildings and mosques.

“It is clear that the military not only used unlawful and excessive force against men, women and children, unlawfully killing hundreds, but then made considerable efforts to try to cover-up these crimes,” said Netsanet Belay.


On Monday 25 April, the military are expected to give evidence to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry established by the Kaduna State Government in January 2016. On 11 April, a Kaduna State government official told the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that the bodies of 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)were collected from the hospital mortuary and an army depot in Zaria and buried secretly in a mass grave near Mando (outside the town of Kaduna) on the night of 14-15 December. The IMN claim a further 350 people who went missing during the incidents in Zaria remain unaccounted for.

22 April 2016

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