The U.S. on Wednesday joined urgent calls for an investigation into an alleged massacre carried out by Nigerian troops against Shiite Muslims in the country's north.
The bloodshed began over the weekend when Nigeria's military said Shiites attacked the Chief of Army staff's convoy in Zaria in an apparent assassination attempt.
"The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tires," the Army said in a statement. "They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects."
It said soldiers had "no choice" but to defend the convoy "at all cost," adding in a statement two days later that the "loss of lives" was "most unfortunate."
The Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria, or IMN, rejected that account. It said scores of its members were killed, "centers destroyed and burnt to ashes" in subsequent raids.
There were conflicting reports of how many were killed in the initial incident — or in the subsequent raids in Zaria near the home of the sect's founder, Ibraheem Zakzaky.
A statement attributed to IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa said "about a thousand" members of the sect had been massacred. Musa was later quoted by the Associated Press as saying that about 200 bodies were taken away from the area about Zakzaky's home in Zaria on Monday.
The IMN — along with human-rights organizations — said Zakzaky's relatives were among the dead and that the leader himself had been injured and arrested.