ABUJA Nigeria's army chief of staff told an inquiry on Tuesday that his soldiers had acted appropriately during a bloody raid last month on a minority Shi'ite sect in which at least 60 people were killed.
The army says the Islamic Movement in Nigeria had tried to assassinate its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, when members of the sect blocked his convoy in the northern city of Zaria in December. The following day the army said it had raided several buildings connected to the sect.
The Shi'ite sect said hundreds of its members had been killed. The army took most of the bodies away, making it impossible to verify the claim but the director of a local hospital said at least 60 people had been killed.
"I'm here because I was there during the incident. I was involved and my officers and soldiers acted in accordance with the rule of engagement," Buratai told an inquiry panel of the National Human Rights Commission into the raid.
"There is no way we would pick our weapons and deliberately violate what we have been tasked and paid to defend and protect," added the army chief.
Members of the Shi'ite sect are also expected to give evidence to the inquiry panel, which was set up to establish what happened in the raid and sat for the first time on Tuesday. It has the power to impose fines and payment of compensation.
Most of Nigeria's Muslims, who number tens of millions, are Sunni, including the Boko Haram jihadist militants who have killed thousands in bombings and shootings, mainly in the northeast, since 2009.
However, in the nation of 170 million people, there are also several thousand Shi'ite Muslims whose movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Shi'ite Iran.
Iran condemned last month's raid and summoned Nigeria's ambassador to Tehran.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Gareth Jones)