DAKAR, Senegal — The Nigerian Army, part of a military criticized for rampant human rights abuses, on Friday used the words of President Trump to justify its fatal shootings of rock-throwing protesters.
Soldiers opened fire this past Monday on a march of about 200 Islamic Shia activists who had been blocking a convoy in the capital, Abuja. Videos circulated on social media showed several protesters hurling rocks at the heavily armed soldiers who then shot fleeing protesters in the back.
The Nigerian military said three protesters were killed but the toll appears to have been much higher.
Amnesty International as well as leaders of the protest said more than 40 people were killed at the march and two other smaller marches, with more than 100 wounded by bullets. A Reuters reporter counted 20 bodies at the main march.
Human rights activists and many ordinary citizens were outraged at the military’s response, which echoed a similar confrontation in 2015, when soldiers killed nearly 350 protesters from the same group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the largest and most recognizable face of Shia Islam in the country. The group organizes frequent protest marches.
Early Friday morning, the military responded to the criticism.
The Army’s official Twitter account posted a video, “Please Watch and Make Your Deductions,” showing Mr. Trump’s anti-migrant speech on Thursday in which he said rocks would be considered firearms if thrown toward the American military at the nation’s borders.
“We’re not going to put up with that,” Mr. Trump said in the clip. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.”
In Nigeria, Mr. Trump is a popular figure among many people who praise what they regard as his straightforwardness and frank talk despite his reported insult to the nation last year when he said Nigerians in the United States would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.
Mr. Trump also referred to unspecified African countries as “shithole countries.”
Earlier this year after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, during which Mr. Trump praised the Nigerian leader’s fight against the Islamic State in West Africa, he said he never again wanted to meet someone so lifeless as Mr. Buhari, the Financial Times reported.
On Friday, John Agim, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army, said the posting of the video was a response to Amnesty International, which had criticized what it called the military’s use of excessive force.
“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” he said. “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”
“Our soldiers sustained injuries,” he continued. “The Shiites even burnt one of our vehicles so what are Amnesty International saying?”
The Nigerian military has said as many as six soldiers were wounded during the protest after “thousands” of members of the sect overran a police checkpoint and blocked traffic along a highway.
Soldiers had arrived to assist the police, a news release said, and were met with protesters who threw canisters of fuel, “large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items.”
The military posted photos of six slingshots and one pocketknife to its Facebook page as evidence of the protester arsenal.
“They wanted to take over the checkpoint with their weapons,” Mr. Agim said. “They knew it was there. We responded to them.”
Ibraheem Musa, a spokesman for the Shia group, said that on Monday security forces refused to let protesters, who numbered no more than 1,000, pass the checkpoint as they marched toward their destination. He said 13 other protesters were killed during two other marches this week, one before and one after Monday’s deadly march.
“Rocks are not equal to bullets,” he said. “The use of force is disproportionate. I don’t think President Trump is a good example — even in America many are critical of him. I am surprised that the Army will use Trump as a role model.”
Despite its history of massacring innocent civilians in the war with Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, detaining innocent citizens and raping women and girls fleeing war-torn communities, the Nigerian military has been the recipient of warplane sales and other gear from the United States.