Dozens of people have been killed after a Nigerian military jet mistakenly bombed a camp where thousands of families displaced during the offensive against Boko Haram militants were sheltering.
- The attack took place near the border with Cameroon, where the military is engaged in what it calls its final push against Boko Haram
- Aid workers are among the dead, with the Red Cross saying six of its employees were killed
- The MSF aid agency said that over 200 people had been injured and appealed for help with medical evacuation
- President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed regret over the incident and pledged to help the victims
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said its staff in the densely populated settlement in the northern town of Rann had seen at least 200 wounded and 50 dead following the bombing on Tuesday and expected the death toll to rise.
“More than 50 people have been killed,” “Our team was there and counted the bodies, and more than 200 people have been wounded following these two different blasts from aerial bombardment,” said Hugues Robert, head of MSF’s emergency response.
“We have been aware of the potential risks our teams are facing in Borno state and have been extremely cautious about how we move and where we go.
“We [are] speaking here about an area that is controlled by the army fully. The whole camp is controlled by the army and no one can come in or out without being checked, so that’s a shock, as well as the fact that this was a very densely populated place that was full of civilians who already lived there and internally displaced persons who had come there.” Robert said.
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed deep sadness and regret at “this regrettable operational mistake”.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has received with deep sadness and regret, the accidental bombing of a civilian community in Rann, Borno State, by the Nigerian air force, engaged in the final phase of mopping up insurgents in the north-east,” Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, said in a statement issued on behalf of the president.
“The president pledges federal help for the state government in attending to ‘this regrettable operational mistake’, and pleads for calm, even as he prays God to grant repose to the souls of the dead,” he added.
About 43,000 internally displaced persons were sheltering at the camp and some of them, as well as aid workers and Nigerian troops, were believed to be among the dead and wounded.
The Nigerian Red Cross said six of its workers, who had been helping to bring desperately needed food to the site, were among the dead. UN helicopters were being sent to the location to help with evacuation of the wounded.
General Rabe Abubakar, a spokesman for the Nigerian military, said some “remnants” of Boko Haram had been detected outside Rann and the military had acted to eliminate them.
After the military realised its mistake, they were “all in pain”, he said.
“However, in a military operation such as this, from time to time these things do occur. Even though it was highly regretful, it was never intended,” the general added.
Major General Lucky Irabor, a commander of the Nigerian military’s counter-insurgency operations in the northeast, told the Associated Press he had ordered the mission based on information that Boko Haram insurgents were gathering, along with geographic coordinates. It was too early to say if a tactical error had been made, he said, promising that an investigation would take place.
The tragedy comes on the heels of a suicide bombing attack on the mosque of the University of Maiduguri, the state capital, in which a professor and four other persons were killed.
A video purporting to feature the voice of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, emerged this week following that incident.
Aid agencies have said that many more people could die in addition to the more than 20,000 killed in the seven-year insurgency that has driven 2.6 million people from their homes and, in some cases, across Nigeria’s borders.