Boko Haram’s massive destruction of Nigerian towns

Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in the attack, said rights group Amnesty, as it released pictures of the destruction of two Nigerian towns.

Satellite images by DigitalGlobe released yesterday show  shots depicting the dense housing in Doro Baga in north-east Nigeria before a Boko Haram attack. The inset demonstrates the level of destruction of most of the buildings in the town. The red areas indicate the remaining healthy vegetation. Michah Farfour / EPA
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Lagos // Satellite images released on Thursday claimed to show massive destruction by Boko Haram of two Nigerian towns in what is feared to be the deadliest strike of the group’s six-year insurgency.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published separate images of Baga and the nearby town of Doron Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, in the far north of Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria.

Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in the attack, Amnesty said, that is thought to have targeted civilian vigilantes helping the army and that reportedly included one woman being killed while in labour.

But Nigeria’s military, which often downplays death tolls, said that 150 died and dismissed as “sensational” claims that 2,000 may have lost their lives.

HRW said the exact death toll was unknown and quoted one local resident as saying: “No one stayed back to count the bodies.

“We were all running to get out of town ahead of Boko Haram fighters who have since taken over the area.”

Amnesty’s images showed aerial shots of the two towns, which have been hit previously by fighting, on January 2 — the day before the attack — and January 7, after homes and businesses were razed.

The group said the images suggested “devastation of catastrophic proportions”, with more than 3,700 structures — 620 in Baga and 3,100 in Doron Baga — damaged or completely destroyed.

HRW said 11 per cent of Baga and 57 per cent of Doron Baga was destroyed, most likely by arson, attributing the greater damage in the latter to the fact that it houses a regional military base.

The Multinational Joint Task Force of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad has been involved in counterinsurgency operations against Boko Haram.

At least 16 settlements around Baga were burnt to the ground and at least 20,000 people fled, according to local officials.

Harrowing testimony has been emerging from survivors about the scale and brutality of the assault in Baga.

Witnesses described seeing decomposing bodies in the streets and one man who escaped after hiding for three days said he was “stepping on bodies” as he fled through the bush.

Amnesty said survivors have told them that Boko Haram fighters killed a woman as she was in labour, during indiscriminate fire that also cut down small children.

“Half of the baby boy [was] out and she died like this,” the unnamed witness was quoted as saying.

A man in his fifties added: “They killed so many people. I saw maybe around 100 killed at that time in Baga. I ran to the bush. As we were running, they were shooting and killing.”

Another woman said: “I don’t know how many but there were bodies everywhere we looked.”

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said on Tuesday that its team in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, was providing assistance to 5,000 survivors of the attack.

The UN refugee agency has said that more than 11,300 Nigerian refugees have fled into Chad.

*Agence France-Presse