Boko Haram Razed Two Nigerian Towns, Amnesty Images Confirm

Amnesty International said satellite images of the towns of Baga and Doron in Nigeria’s northeast provide “indisputable and shocking evidence” of the scale of last week’s attack by Boko Haram.

Images of the towns, 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) apart, taken on Jan. 2 before the attack and on Jan. 7 after it, showed the extent of the devastation, with more than 3,700 buildings destroyed, Amnesty said in an e-mailed statement. The London-based group said last week it was investigating reports that as many as 2,000 people were killed in the attacks.

The military has disputed the 2,000 casualty figure, saying no more than 150 people were killed in the attacks in Borno state. Security forces are struggling to contain a six-year insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people, President Goodluck Jonathan said in September.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 170 million people, will go the polls next month in the face of increasing violence by Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Islamic rule on Africa’s biggest economy. The militant group controls an area the size of Belgium in the northeast, U.K. Foreign Office Minister of State Hugo Swire said this week.

The satellite images “show devastation of catastrophic proportions” in the two towns, one of which was “almost wiped off the map,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher at Amnesty. “Of all Boko Haram assaults analyzed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet,” with homes, clinics and schools razed to the ground, he said.

Still Missing

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin” in the local Hausa language, drew global outrage when it abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from their dormitories in April and threatened to sell them into slavery. Most of the girls are still missing.

Jonathan today spoke to troops in Maiduguri, the capital of northeastern Borno state, and visited a camp there for people who fled the Baga attacks. He promised money to help victims return to their homes, and told soldiers that the government is making every effort to ensure they are properly equipped, his office said by e-mail.

“Terrorism and insurgency have been very traumatic for all of us,” said Jonathan, who had been criticized for his silence on the Baga attacks.

Multinational Force

On Jan. 3, Boko Haram captured the headquarters of the multinational military force in Baga set up to combat the insurgency. The Islamists have repeatedly targeted communities perceived as helping security forces, with towns that formed state-sponsored vigilante groups suffering brutal attacks, according to Amnesty.

Thousands of people have fled the violence across the border to neighboring Chad and to other parts of Nigeria including Maiduguri, Amnesty said. More than 981,000 people have been displaced , according to Nigeria’s emergency agency.

The insurgency has made 20 of 27 local government areas in Borno inaccessible, Grema Terab, chairman of the state’s emergency agency, said last week.

Amnesty quoted a survivor of the attack as saying that about 300 women were taken from Baga town. Older women and children were freed after four days, while the Islamists are still keeping the younger ones, Amnesty said.

“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,” Eyre said. “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.”

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