Satellite images released by Amnesty International today provide indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of last week’s attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants.
Before and after images of two neighbouring towns, Baga (160 kilometres from Maiduguri) and Doron Baga (also known as Doro Gowon, 2.5 km from Baga), taken on 2 and 7 January show the devastating effect of the attacks which left over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed. Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over this period.
“These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
“Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.”
The analysis shows just two of the many towns and villages that fell victim to a series of Boko Haram attacks which began on 3 January 2015.
In Baga, a densely populated town less than two square kilometres in size, approximately 620 structures were damaged or completely destroyed by fire.
In Doron Baga more than 3,100 structures were damaged or destroyed by fire affecting most of the 4 square kilometre town. Many of the wooden fishing boats along the shoreline, visible in the images taken on the 2 January, are no longer present in the 7 January images tallying with eye witnesses’ testimony that desperate residents fled by boat across Lake Chad.
Thousands of people have fled the violence across the border to Chad and to other parts of Nigeria including Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. These people are adding to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees, who have already stretched the capacity of host communities and government authorities. Amnesty International is calling on the governments of Nigeria and Chad to ensure these displaced people are protected and provided with adequate humanitarian assistance.
The destruction shown in these images matches the horrific testimonies that Amnesty International has gathered. Interviews with eyewitnesses as well as with local government officials and local human rights activists suggest that Boko Haram militants shot hundreds of civilians.
A man in his fifties told Amnesty International what happened in Baga during the attack: “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.” He hid in the bush and was later discovered by Boko Haram fighters, who detained him in Doron Baga for four days.
Those who fled describe seeing many more corpses in the bush. “I don’t know how many but there were bodies everywhere we looked,” one woman told Amnesty International.
Another witness described how Boko Haram were shooting indiscriminately killing even small children and a woman who was in labour. “[H]alf of the baby boy is out and she died like this,” he said.
Boko Haram fighters have repeatedly targeted communities for their perceived collaboration with the security forces. Towns that formed state-sponsored militia groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) have suffered particularly brutal attacks. Civilian JTF groups were active in Baga and a senior military official confirmed to Amnesty International confidentially that at times the military took these members on operations to attack Boko Haram positions. A witness told Amnesty International that during the attack on Baga that he heard Boko Haram fighters saying they were searching for Civilian JTF members, as they went house to house shooting men of fighting age.
After the attack on Baga, witnesses describe how Boko Haram drove into the bush rounding up women, children and the elderly who had escaped. According to one woman who was detained for four days “Boko Haram took around 300 women and kept us in a school in Baga. They released the older women, mothers and most of the children after four days but are still keeping the younger women.”
Amnesty International is calling on Boko Haram to stop killing civilians. The deliberate killing of civilians and destruction of their property by Boko Haram are war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be duly investigated.
The government should take all possible legal steps to restore security in the north-east and ensure protections of civilians.
“Up until now, the isolation of Baga combined with the fact that Boko Haram remains in control of the area has meant that it has been very difficult to verify what happened there. Residents have not been able to return to bury the dead, let alone count their number. But through these satellite images combined with graphic testimonies a picture of what is likely to be Boko Haram’s deadliest attack ever is becoming clearer,” said Daniel Eyre.
“This week, Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information stated that the number of people killed in Baga including Boko Haram fighters “has so far not exceeded about 150”. These images, together with the stories of those who survived the attack, suggest that the final death toll could be much higher than this figure.”