ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian military attack that used drones to target rebels instead killed an unspecified number of civilians gathered for a religious celebration, authorities said Monday. The attack was the latest in recent errant bombings of local residents in Nigeria’s troubled regions.
The attack on Sunday night in Tudun Biri village of Kaduna state’s Igabi council area took place as Muslims gathered there to observe the holiday celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, Mawlid al-Nabi. The local governor, Uba Sani said civilians were “mistakenly killed and many others were wounded” by a drone “targeting terrorists and bandits.”
Officials didn’t provide the number of casualties but Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said 120 people were killed in the attack, citing reports of its workers and volunteers in the area.
“Many of them were children (and) more dead bodies are being discovered,” Isa Sanusi, the group’s director in Nigeria, told The Associated Press.
At least 50 bodies were recovered, according to Igabi resident Mustapha Rufai. “They said they mistakenly threw a bomb on them,” he said.
Extremist and rebel attacks have ravaged parts of Nigeria’s northwest and central regions. The country’s forces frequently target the hideouts of armed groups with aerial bombardment but have sometimes bombed villagers.
The latest bombing caused outrage among citizens, reminding many of the rampant allegations of human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces that have raised concerns from Western allies, including the United States.
The head of the Nigerian army division in charge of operations in Kaduna was quoted by the state government as saying during a security meeting on Monday that the drone operation was a routine one.
“The Nigerian army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently (its actions) affected members of the community,” a statement issued by the Kaduna State Ministry of Internal Security quoted Maj. Gen. Valentine Okoro, head of the army division, as saying.
“Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing, as dozens of wounded victims have been evacuated” to hospital for treatment, Kaduna Security Commissioner Samuel Aruwan said.
The Nigerian air force issued a statement saying it did not carry out any operations in Kaduna on Sunday night but that it it is not the only one “operating combat armed drones” in the region. A Nigerian army spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Local media reported that villagers fled the area, fearing more drone attacks. Activists have said that similar incidents were not investigated in the past, leaving victims and survivors without adequate compensation or justice.
Sani, the state governor, said officials were sent to the village to meet with the families of victims and that an investigation was underway.
“We are determined to prevent a repeat of this tragedy and reassure our people that their protection would be prioritized in the sustained fight against terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements,” he said.
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