Two dead at Shi'ite processions in northern Nigeria

October 12, 2016 1:06 PM EDT

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By Garba Muhammad

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - At least two people were killed on Wednesday in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna during clashes at processions by minority Shi'ite Muslims, witnesses said.

A police spokesman did not respond to text messages or phone calls seeking confirmation of fatalities, or to respond to claims from residents that officers helped instigate the violence.

The clashes occurred during marches to commemorate the Shi'ite mourning day of Ashura. They also came just five days after the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shi'ite sect, was declared illegal by authorities.

Witnesses said properties had been set on fire and clashes had broken out between people taking part in the processions and a group of unknown youths.

"It is the police that ordered the youths to attack us and to destroy our buildings," said a local Shi'ite leader who asked to remain anonymous and said three people had been killed.

A Reuters photographer at the site saw two dead bodies and a school being vandalized by around 10 youths.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria was founded in the 1980s after the revolution in mainly Shi'ite Iran, which inspired the sect's founders. Nigeria's Muslim population is overwhelmingly from the Sunni school of Islam.

In December, the army killed 348 of the movement's members during several days of violence in Zaria, a city north of Kaduna, a judicial inquiry said.

On Friday the Kaduna state government said anyone convicted of being a member of the sect could be imprisoned for seven years, fined or both. The size of the fine was not specified.

The Shi'ite sect's leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, has been held without charge since December following the clashes.

Nigeria is also home to an insurgency by Boko Haram militants, a Sunni militant group allied to Islamic State, which wants to set up an Islamic state in the northeast.

(Additional reporting by Afolabi Sotunde and Ardo Abdullahi; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Dominic Evans)

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