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Nigerian army drone strike error kills civilians

By Aminu Abubakar with Laurie Churchman in Abuja
Nigeria Nigeria's army is battling jihadists in the northeast and bandit militias in the northwest.  By Audu Marte AFP
DEC 4, 2023 LISTEN
Nigeria's army is battling jihadists in the northeast and bandit militias in the northwest. By Audu Marte (AFP)

An army drone strike accidently hit a village in northwestern Nigeria, killing and wounding civilians celebrating a Muslim festival, local authorities, the military and a resident said on Monday.

Nigeria's armed forces often rely on air strikes in their battle against so-called bandit militias in the northwest and northeast of the country, where jihadists have been waging a 14-year conflict.

The army did not provide details or a deathtoll for the strike late Sunday in Tudun Biri village in Kaduna State, but other officials reported fatalities and one villager said 30 people were killed.

"Muslim faithful observing Maulud were mistakenly killed and many others injured following a military drone attack targeting terrorists and bandits," Kaduna State governor Uba Sani said. He said he has called for an investigation.

Many of the victims were women and children, resident Hassan Ma'aruf told AFP by telephone, sharing images he said showed the bodies.

AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the images.

Dozens of wounded were taken to a teaching hospital in the state capital Kaduna, local state security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said following a closed-door meeting with army officials and community leaders.

He said the attack left "several citizens dead and others injured" but did not provide a toll.

According to the army, it was a routine mission against militants that "inadvertently affected members of the community," he said.

"The Maulud celebration was taking place in the village last night when the gathering was bombed at around 9:00 pm," said Ma'aruf, the resident.

"We have so far identified 30 dead victims, mostly women and children."

Militia gangs, known locally as bandits, have long terrorised parts of northwest Nigeria, operating from bases deep in forests and raiding villages to loot and kidnap residents for ransom.

In the northeast, jihadists have been pushed back from the territory they held at the height of the conflict, though they continie to fight on.

More than 40,000 people have been killed and two million displaced since 2009.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has made tackling insecurity a priority since coming to office in May, as he seeks to encourage foreign investment in Africa's most populous country.

Nigerian military bombing raids have caused civilian casualties in the past.

At least 20 fishermen were killed and several injured in a September 2021 attack in Kwatar Daban Masara on Lake Chad in the northeast, when the military mistook them for militants.

In January 2017, at least 112 people were killed when a fighter jet struck a camp housing 40,000 people displaced by jihadist violence in the town of Rann near the border with Cameroon.

The Nigerian military blamed "lack of appropriate marking of the area" in a report issued six months later.

In July 2019, at least 13 civilians were killed when a fighter jet struck Gajiganna village in Borno state, as it tried to hit jihadists who were fleeing following an attack on a nearby base.

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