Survivors of an assault by Islamist militants that killed a large number of civilians in Nigeria have described days of relentless violence in which, one witness said, some people were slaughtered “like insects.”
The accounts were given by villagers who fled the carnage in and around Baga, a town in Borno state that lies in the northeastern corner of Nigeria near the border with Chad. The killing unfolded over several days after Boko Haram fighters seized a key military base there Jan. 3. Amnesty International has said there are reports that the death toll could be as high as 2,000, though some witnesses cite lower tolls in the hundreds.
Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, a military spokesman, said Monday that the evidence available so far indicates a death toll of no more than 150, including insurgents killed in combat with troops. The military has said 14 soldiers were killed and 30 were wounded in the Baga attack, and that it was making a plan to restore “law, order and normalcy” to the area.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as well as the U.S. and other countries have condemned the Baga bloodshed, which highlights the increasingly brazen tactics of an insurgent movement in Nigeria’s northeast as well as the inability of Nigerian forces to respond effectively. President Goodluck Jonathan is running for re-election in Feb. 14 elections, but it is uncertain how voting can proceed in areas under Boko Haram’s sway.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. still was trying to get information from the ground on reported atrocities. She said the U.S. was trying to work with Nigeria despite the government’s termination in November of a third phase of a training operation involving a Nigerian army battalion.
She also condemned “horrific reports today of young girls being used to conduct suicide attacks.”
Boko Haram is suspected of using a 10-year-old girl to detonate a bomb at a market in Maiduguri Saturday, killing at least 10 people and seriously injuring others.
One survivor of the Baga violence, Ibrahim Gambo, estimated that more than 500 people may have died and said he did not know what happened to his wife and daughter. The 25-year-old truck driver said he was part of a civilian militia that initially had success in resisting Boko Haram insurgents.
But the army told his militia group to pull back so a military plane could attack Boko Haram forces, which then surrounded Baga when the plane didn’t arrive, Gambo said in an interview with the Associated Press.
“As we were running for our lives, we came across many corpses; both men and women, and even children,” he said. Some had gunshot wounds in the head and some had their legs bound and hands tied behind their backs, he said.
Boko Haram fighters opened fire on vessels carrying fleeing residents, Takakumi said. He and other survivors fled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.