Thousands of Muslims marched in Zaria today and burnt US and Israeli flags on Thursday to protest a US-made anti-Islam movie that has drawn demonstrations in various countries.
The protesters under the auspices of the pro-Iranian Shiite group Islamic Movement of Nigeria carried banners and placards denouncing the United States and Israel while calling for the prosecution of the film producers.
They dragged the US and Israeli flags along the dusty streets and burnt them at the end of the 10-kilometre (eight-mile) march amidst cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
“The film, apart from outward mockery on tenets and beliefs of Islam, presented Prophet Mohammed in a display of an unspeakable immoral manner and personality,” read a leaflet circulated by the group during the protest.
Armed policemen in vans escorted the protesters to ward off potential violence in the northern city that is home to Nigeria’s Vice President Namadi Sambo.
The city had seen violent attacks blamed on Boko Haram Islamists, including gun attacks on Sambo’s house.
Last week, Muslims in the central city of Jos as well as the northern cities of Katsina and Sokoto poured into the streets in protest against the movie without any incident, although soldiers dispersed the protesters in Jos.
The crudely made “Innocence of Muslims”, produced by US-based extremist Christians, has triggered protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online, and more than 30 people have been killed in violence linked to the film.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 160 million people, is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a largely Christian south, and Muslim-Christian tensions have often led to deadly confrontation.
An article in one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers in 2002 considered blasphemous by Muslims helped spark deadly riots in the northern city of Kaduna in which 3,000 people were killed.
The article, published a few days before the Miss World Pageant planned to be held in Nigeria, said the Prophet Mohammed would have taken one of the beauty queens as a wife, in reaction to strong opposition by Muslims against hosting the pageant in the country.