Six Shiite protesters dead in clashes with Nigerian police: witnesses

Nigerian soldiers roll through the streets of Abuja during clashes between members of the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria and police (AFP Photo/Kola SULAIMON)

Abuja (AFP) - At least six Shiite protesters were killed in clashes with Nigerian police in the capital Abuja on Monday, witnesses told AFP.

"I am right now in front of six dead bodies, one of them is an underage boy," a Shiite protester, Abdullahi Musa said. "Many, many people were shot."

An AFP journalist at the scene also saw the bodies.

Hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) -- a Shia sect -- marched in the capital before being met with tear gas from police, the AFP journalist witnesses.

Protesters then threw petrol bombs, setting a local fire station ablaze.

"The police responded and started shooting live ammunitions," the journalist said. " I saw six people dead in different places, one of them was a teenager."

Nigerian broadcast company Channels TV said one of its journalists was hit by a stray bullet.

It was the latest in a series of protests calling for the release of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who has been held on terror charges by Nigerian authorities since December 2015.

A high court has ordered his release but the government has refused, instead bringing more charges against him.

Zakzaky has been at odds with Nigerian authorities for years because of his calls in the 1970s for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution.

He was detained after violence erupted at a religious procession in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria in December 2015. According to Amnesty International, some 350 Shiite marchers were killed by the Nigerian army.

Several protest marches in Nigeria have led to violence with security forces.

In October 2018, according to the IMN and human rights groups, more than 40 people were killed when the security forces opened fire on crowds on the outskirts of the capital.

The official toll is six.

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari called on protesters to wait for the outcome of Zakzaky's trial.