At least 22 members of Nigeria's Shiite Muslim community have been killed by police and mobs while holding religious processions in three cities in the north of the country, a community leader said Thursday.
The attacks on Wednesday claimed 15 lives in Funtua, six in Kaduna and one in Sokoto, said Ibrahim Musa, spokesman for the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the main Shiite group.
Police, however, said only three were killed in Funtua and one in Sokoto, and accused the Shiites of first attacking them. They blamed the killing in Sokoto on "hoodlums," the news agency NAN reported.
"As the Shiites had their procession, police opened fire on them and thereafter people started chasing them and attacking them," said a witness in Funtua who wanted to remain anonymous.
The army and police targeted Shiites "taking part in peaceful annual processions marking the death of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed," the Britain-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said.
Musa said Shiites were also attacked in Kano and Jos, and that some of their religious centres were burnt down.
Amnesty International and an inquiry commission have accused the army of killing about 350 Shiites in Zaria, 270 kilometres north of Abuja, in December.
The Iranian-backed Shiites accuse the Nigerian authorities of persecuting them. Most of Nigeria's 80 million Muslims, who make up nearly half of the country's population, are Sunnis.