Hundreds of bodies still litter the bushes of Baga, Nigeria — mostly women, children and elderly victims too slow to outrun Boko Haram fighters who stormed the town with explosives and assault rifles in recent weeks, in the Islamic extremists’ bloodiest massacre yet.
Amnesty International called Boko Haram’s recent attacks in Baga — near the Nigeria-Chad border – possibly “the “deadliest massacre” in the history of the violent group. An Amnesty report suggests the town was razed and as many as 2,000 people have been killed.
Thousands have fled their homes around Baga, some crossing the border into Chad, said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for the human rights group.
Insurgents seized a key military base on Jan. 3 and attacked again last week, Nigerian government spokesman Mike Omeri said Friday.
“Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted airstrikes against militant targets,” Omeri said in a statement.
District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who couldn’t escape when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.
Violence continued over the weekend as Boko Haram fighters are suspected of commissioning a female suicide bomber — reported to be just 10 years old – to strike at market in the main city of northeast Nigeria, Maiduguri, killing at least 10 people and injuring others Saturday. The bomb exploded after explosives were found under the girl’s clothing during a search, according to witness accounts
Two more female suicide attackers killed four and injured more than 40 people in the town of Potiskum Sunday.
The Nigerian military said 14 soldiers were killed and 30 were wounded in fighting in and around Baga, and that it was making a plan to restore “law, order and normalcy” to the area. On Saturday, it said it had successfully fought off insurgents trying to take another major north-eastern town, Damaturu.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made it clear Monday that the U.S. is concerned about the situation, but expects the Nigerian government to protect its people.
“We are going to continue to work with the Nigerian government on our counterterrorism efforts. At the same time, we are also going to continue to urge the Nigerian government to live up to some basic human rights and some principles of basic human rights that sometimes get overlooked out of an effort to try to fight this terrible terrorist scourge that they are dealing with in their country right now,” Earnest told reporters.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the recent attacks in a statement Sunday. The secretary-general said he was appalled by reports that hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in the Baga assault.
It was almost impossible to get an accurate death toll as authorities continued to find more bodies and tend to the injured.
“No one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for a defense group that fights Boko Haram, told The Associated Press.
Emergency workers said this week they are having a hard time coping with scores of children separated from their parents in the chaos of Boko Haram’s increasingly frequent and deadly attacks. Only seven children have been reunited with parents in Yola, capital of Adamawa state, where about 140 others have no idea if their families are alive or dead, said Sa’ad Bello, the coordinator of five refugee camps in Yola.
One survivor of the Baga violence, Ibrahim Gambo, 25, estimated that more than 500 people may have died and said he did not know what happened to his wife and daughter.
The truck driver said he was part of a civilian militia that had success in resisting Boko Haram insurgents.
But the army told his militia group to pull back so that a military plane could attack Boko Haram forces, which then surrounded Baga when the plane didn’t arrive, Gambo said.
“As we were running for our lives, we came across many corpses; both men and women, and even children,” he said. Some had gunshot wounds in the head and some had their legs bound and hands tied behind their backs, he said.
Yahaya Takakumi, a 55-year-old farmer, told Nigeria’s Premium Times that he escaped from Baga with one of his wives and spent four days traveling to safety through the bush, but does not know the whereabouts of four of his children, his second wife and his elder brother.
“We saw dead bodies especially, on the islands of Lake Chad where fishermen had settled,” the newspaper quoted Takakumi as saying. “Several persons were killed there like insects,” Takakumi said.
The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, on Monday accused the West of ignoring the Boko Haram threat. Ignatius Kaigama told the BBC the world needs to show more determination to halt the group’s advance in Nigeria.
He suggested the international community show the same outrage and compassion for the victims of Boko Haram’s siege of terror as it has for victims of the attacks in France.
“It is a monumental tragedy. It has saddened all of Nigeria. But … we seem to be helpless. Because if we could stop Boko Haram, we would have done it right away. But they continue to attack, and kill and capture territories… with such impunity,” he said.
A French-led initiative has called for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute 700 troops each to a multinational force to fight Boko Haram, but so far, no country has implemented the plan.
Nigeria holds elections next month even though Boko Haram extremists hold large swaths of territory in the northeast of Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria’s politicians appear to be more focused on the elections and President Goodluck Jonathan has not yet commented on the recent violence, BBC reported.
Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram group drew international condemnation when its fighters kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a boarding school in northeast Chibok town last year. Dozens escaped but 219 remain missing.
The 5-year insurgency killed more than 10,000 people last year alone, according to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. More than a million people are displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands have fled across its borders into Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.