A Nigerian military strike that used drones to target rebels instead killed some civilians, government and military officials said Monday. The misfire during a religious festival was the latest such botched bombing of local residents in Nigeria’s violence hotspots.
Muslims observing Maulud on Sunday night in Igabi council area of Kaduna state were “accidentally killed and many others injured” by the drone “targeting terrorists and bandits”, Governor Uba Sani said.
Officials have not confirmed the number of people killed, but a large crowd usually gathers in the state to celebrate this holiday commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s bird.
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Amnesty International’s office in Nigeria said 120 people were killed in the attack, citing reports from its workers and volunteers in the area. “Many of them were children (and) more bodies are being discovered,” Isa Sanusi, the organization’s director in Nigeria, told The Associated Press.
At least 50 bodies were recovered, according to Igabi resident Mustapha Rufai. “They said they accidentally bombed them,” he said.
Extremist attacks and insurgents have ravaged parts of Nigeria’s northwest and central regions. The country’s forces often target the hideouts of the armed groups with aerial bombardments, but have sometimes shelled villagers.
The latest incident has sparked public outrage, reminding many of rampant allegations of human rights abuses by Nigeria’s security forces that have raised concerns from Western allies such as the United States.
The head of the Nigerian army department in charge of operations in Kaduna was reportedly told by the state government during a security meeting on Monday that the drone operation was routine.
“The Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently affected members of the community,” Major Valentine Okoro, head of the army department, said in a statement issued by the Kaduna State Department of Internal Security.
“Search and rescue efforts are ongoing as dozens of injured have been taken” to a hospital for treatment, said Kaduna Security Commissioner Samuel Aruwan.
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The Nigerian Air Force issued a statement saying it did not conduct any operations in Kaduna, but that it was “not the only organization operating combat armed drones” in the region. A spokesman for the Nigerian military did not immediately respond to an inquiry by The Associated Press.
Local media reported that villagers fled the area, fearing new drone attacks. Activists said similar incidents had gone uninvestigated in the past, leaving victims and survivors without adequate compensation or justice.
Sani, the state governor, said government officials were sent to the affected village on Sunday to meet with the families of the victims. An investigation was underway, he said.
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“We are determined to prevent a repeat of this tragedy and assure our people that their protection will be a priority in the ongoing battle against terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements,” he said.