Abuja - Nigeria's most senior army officer has said his troops acted appropriately during a raid on a Shiite Muslim group which has led to claims of hundreds of deaths.
Chief of Army Staff General Tukur Yusuf Buratai said on Tuesday his officers and soldiers "acted in accordance to the rule of engagement and to the task given them by their commanders".
He was giving evidence to an inquiry set up by the National Human Rights Commission, which is looking into last month's raid on the headquarters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).
No official death toll has been given from the two days of clashes from December 12, which were sparked when IMN followers blocked Buratai's convoy in the city of Zaria, in northern Nigeria.
The group said last week some 730 of its members were unaccounted for, "either killed by the army or... in detention".
A medic at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria told AFP he counted at least 400 bodies in the morgue on the evening of December 12.
Local reporters covering the violence said they saw hundreds more on the streets near IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky's compound in the days that followed.
Human Rights Watch has said "at least 300" were killed while Amnesty International put the figures at "hundreds".
Buratai, however, rejected claims that soldiers operated outside the law.
He told the panel soldiers "respect human rights" and had sworn to protect human lives, judging it unfair to criticise troops for trying to uphold law and order.
Zakzaky and the IMN have previously clashed with Nigeria's secular authorities over their quest to establish an Islamic state through and Iranian-style revolution.
The cleric has periodically been incarcerated for alleged incitement and subversion.
Nigeria's north is mainly Sunni Muslim.