Nigerian police seek to arrest members of banned Shi'ite group

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian police are seeking help from the general public to arrest members of a banned Shi’ite Muslim group whose protests were declared illegal on Sunday, the country’s most senior policeman said on Tuesday.

Nigeria’s government banned the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) after a week of clashes between police and its followers, who have been holding protests to demand the release of their detained leader.

The group says at least 20 of its followers were killed by police in crackdowns on demonstrators last week; police have given no death toll. The group’s leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been held since 2015 when government forces killed around 350 people in a storming of the group’s compound and a nearby mosque.

The government says IMN incites violence, and a court has given the authorities permission to label it a terrorist organization. The group says it does not practice violence and argues that Zakzaky is being held illegally in violation of a 2015 court order to free him.

On Monday a judge adjourned a bail hearing for Zakzaky until Aug. 5.

The IMN is the largest Shi’ite group in a country where around half the population is Muslim, overwhelmingly Sunni.

Nigeria considers some Islamist movements to be a security threat after a decade combating the insurgency by Sunni Muslim militant group Boko Haram in which 30,000 people have been killed. The death of Boko Haram’s leader in custody was one of the events that set it on a violent path.

The inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, addressing senior members of the police force on Tuesday, said he wanted the public to share information to “aid in the identification of the locations of the IMN members and their mentors as well as in working with us in apprehending and bringing them to justice”.

Any person who is an IMN member or associated with the group “shall be treated as a terrorist.... and shall be brought to justice,” said Adamu, adding: “All forms of procession or protest by IMN is now illegal and thus banned.”

Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Paul Carsten in Abuja; Editing by Peter Graff