Nigeria attack: Too many bodies to count

Nigeria | Boko Haram’s terror rampage may be one of the deadliest in the Islamist group’s history
by Jamie Dean
Posted 1/10/15, 08:45 pm

In the villages surrounding the northern Nigerian town of Baga, the corpses filling the streets are “too many to count,” according to witnesses of what may be one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in recent history.

Militants with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram besieged Baga and at least 16 other villages during the past week, killing hundreds—if not thousands—of residents in a matter of days.

Some local officials reported the slayings could mount to more than 2,000 dead. Others indicated the death toll likely was in the hundreds. Whatever the final count, the savagery appeared to surpass even Boko Haram’s severest brutality in its years-long campaign to conquer northern Nigeria and establish an Islamic caliphate.

The recent attack began on Jan. 3, as Boko Haram militants stormed the city of Baga in the northeastern state of Borno, near the border of neighboring Chad. In August, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, declared “an Islamic caliphate” in Borno State, and seized as much as 70 percent of the region through relentless attacks.

The town of Baga was one the last remaining holdouts.

The town also held another strategic target for Boko Haram: It houses a multi-national military base. When militants stormed the town, they attacked the base, where mostly Nigerian soldiers were stationed. Witnesses say the soldiers promptly fled.

That left Baga and surrounding villages vulnerable to a horrific rampage: Witnesses say Boko Haram militants shot fleeing residents, burned homes, and searched the bush for those hiding from their attackers. When militants found residents hiding, they executed them and left their corpses strewn across the villages.

Local officials say most victims were children, women, and elderly residents who couldn’t outrun their attackers. A Nigerian lawmaker told the BBC: “The indiscriminate killings went on and on and on.”

Other witnesses told the BBC little remained of Baga and surrounding villages. A senior government official told the news agency that Baga—home to 10,000 people before the attack—was now “virtually non-existent. … It has been burned down.”

Many residents fled into Chad, and early reports indicated dozens of victims drowned as they attempted to cross a vast lake. Others may be stranded on a mosquito-infested island without food or water.

Thousands of victims fled to Maiduguri—the regional capital home to several million people. In recent months, some feared Boko Haram militants were plotting to invade the city and declare it the capital of the group’s purported state.

Those fears deepened on Jan. 10 when a bomb strapped to a 10-year-old girl exploded in a busy Maiduguri market, killing at least 16 people and injuring 20 others. Some headlines described the attack as executed by a “child suicide bomber,” but the little girl was indisputably one of the militants’ victims.

Nigerian military officials said they dispatched troops to the region to help quell the attacks, but such assurances likely seem hollow to thousands of Nigerians—including scores of Christians—who have watched soldiers abandon their posts while militants burned churches and homes across northeastern Nigeria for at least five years.

President Goodluck Jonathan—facing a bid to retain his office on Feb. 14—offered condolences for terrorist attacks, but not in his own country. Jonathan expressed sympathy to France over the Islamist attacks in Paris, but didn’t publicly acknowledge the rampage unfolding in Nigeria.

During an address to Nigerian college students on Jan. 10, Jonathan talked about the importance of voter cards, and he apologized to civil servants who got their paychecks late in December. His vague references to security concerns didn’t include Boko Haram, the recent attacks, or the 200 schoolgirls the militants kidnapped in April.

Back in Baga, a spokesman for a group of poorly armed civilians that tries to fight Boko Haram said the men in his group had given up on trying to count the dead: “The human carnage perpetuated by Boko Haram terrorists was enormous.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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