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Nigerian Army Cites Trump In Its Defense Of Killing Protesters

Mourners attend the burial of people killed in violent clashes in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, between Nigerian soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
Mudashiru Atanda
AFP/Getty Images
Mourners attend the burial of people killed in violent clashes in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, between Nigerian soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.

Updated at 8: 10 p.m. ET

The Nigerian army reportedly used the words of President Trump to defend fatal shootings of Muslim protesters last weekend and Monday.

In a tweet, which appears to have been taken down, the army posted a video of Trump's anti-migrant speech in which he said rocks would be considered firearms if thrown toward soldiers at the U.S. border, according to the BBCand The New York Times.

In a Nov. 1 speech on immigration, when asked by a reporter if active duty soldiers being sent to the U.S. border with Mexico would fire on migrants seeking asylum, Trump said he hoped not.

"But I will tell you this,"he continued, "anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico — the Mexican military, Mexican police — where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm, because there's not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock."

"They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back," Trump told another reporter at the news conference. "We're going to consider it, I told them, consider it a rifle."

One day later, Trump said he didn't mean the troops would shoot the rock-throwers. "We're going to arrest those people," he told reporters. "We're going to arrest those people quickly and for a long period of time."

The Nigerian government came under harsh criticism after Amnesty International reported the killing of Shiite Muslim protesters by Nigerian security forces.

A spokesman for the Nigerian army told the BBC "this is what Trump was talking about," and said their decision to fire live rounds at protesters was justified because they were armed.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International reported that Nigerian soldiers killed more than 40 protesters in the Islamic Movement of Nigeria while they were peacefully demonstrating against the imprisonment of their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky. The human rights group said the protesters were killed by security forces using automatic weapons on Saturday and Monday in Abuja, the capital, and the neighboring state of Nasarawa.

The group said soldiers fired on the Islamic Movement of Nigeria protesters in a "horrific use of excessive force." At least six people were killed Saturday, Amnesty said. On Monday the death toll was at least another 39, and 122 people were injured with gunshot wounds, according to the group.

The Financial Times reported that Nigeria's military said Monday that "three protesters had been killed while four soldiers were wounded in what it said was an 'attack' by 'massive numbers' of the sect."

Nigeria's government said its soldiers were acting in self-defense, according to The Guardian."They met the soldiers in the call of their duty, and the soldiers tried to defend themselves," The Guardian quoted army spokesman John Agim as saying.

Nigeria's Embassy in Washington, D.C., has not replied to NPR's phone and email requests for comment.

Several activists and former U.S. officials condemned the Nigerian army's behavior.

Samantha Power, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, tweeted an image of the now-deleted Twitter post by the Nigerian military.

Amnesty International reported some victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and were shot in the chest and head. "This pattern clearly shows soldiers and police approached IMN processions not to restore public order, but to kill," said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, using the initials for the Shiite protesters.

"It seems the Nigerian military are deliberately using tactics designed to kill when dealing with IMN gatherings. Many of these shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions," Ojigho continued.

Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is split between a mostly Muslim north and a largely Christian south.

Most of the Muslims in the country are Sunni, but Zakzaky has attracted increasing numbers of followers to Shiite Islam. Zakzaky has been under arrest since 2015, when the Nigerian army raided his Shiite Muslim sect, reportedly killing hundreds of people.

Regarding the deaths on Saturday and Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria said it is concerned and is urging "restraint on all sides."

The embassy called for Nigerian authorities to "conduct a thorough investigation" and "take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations of Nigerian law."

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