Perhaps 2,000 people have been massacred in Nigeria in the most savage and brutal attack yet by the Islamist group Boko Haram. The precise number of those killed is unknown, but it is at least in the hundreds. Eyewitnesses and media sources are reporting that the dead are too many to count.
The vicious assault is believed to be connected to the upcoming election, in an effort by Boko Haram to intimidate citizens into not voting.
Boko Haram gunmen descended on the town of Baga in Borno State on Saturday, January 3, in pickup trucks, initially approaching a military outpost north of the town. They then proceeded to sack surrounding villages and towns, killing at random. By Wednesday they reached the town of Baga itself. According to an eyewitness who spoke to The New York Times, “When they neutralized the soldiers, they proceeded to Baga and started killing everyone in sight. There was no pity in their eyes. Even old men and children were killed.”
Reports suggest that Baga, previously a town of 10,000, was razed to the ground.
One survivor, Yanaye Grema, hid out for three days in Baga, taking cover in between his neighbour's house and a wall while the massacre took place. After the attack, like many other survivors, he fled to the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, a city of at least a million in Nigeria’s northeast. He told AFP, “For five kilometres (three miles), I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached Malam Karanti village, which was also deserted and burnt.”
Maiduguri was itself attacked on Saturday, January 10. A suicide bombing killed 19 people and wounded many others in an attack on a crowded market. The suicide bomber was a girl aged around 10, part of a growing trend of the terror group using young girls to carry out attacks as they typically arouse less suspicion.
Last year Boko Haram killed an estimated 10,000 people, and they show no signs of slowing down their six-year insurgency. The Nigerian army has proven incapable of fighting back effectively against Boko Haram. In late December, the Nigerian government inexplicably halted a US program to train its army to fight Boko Haram.
According to Daniel Eyre, a Nigerian researcher for Amnesty International, “The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group. If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population.”
Borno State Senator Maina Maaji Lawan said that some 10,000 people had fled as refugees to Chad. The BBC reported that “a large number” had drowned while fleeing across Lake Chad.
For more information on Boko Haram’s brutal insurgency in Nigeria and the Islamist ideology driving it, see Clarion Project’s Fact Sheet: Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Group