In the most recent attacks by extremist militant group Boko Haram, hundreds of gunmen attacked the town of Baga, leaving up to 2,000 people dead. The majority of those killed were women, children, and the elderly who could not flee quickly enough.
Officials in Nigeria can’t yet be sure exactly how many were killed in the attacks because there are simply too many bodies to count. Official numbers will be released once there is an opportunity to do a headcount from households – the town is not safe because it is still occupied by Boko Haram. The raids in Baga, which had a population of around 10,000 people, began on January 3 and continued for days. Most of the people in the town have now either been killed or have fled. Almost 10,000 people have fled to Chad, and others have gone to the neighboring town of Maiduguri, since last weekend.
This news comes around the same time as reports of a girl in a Maiduguri, Nigeria marketplace Saturday who had explosives strapped to her that detonated, killing 20 and injuring 51. Some sources say the girl was 10, some say she was 17 or 18. In an attack in the same marketplace late last year, two other girls had bombs strapped to them that detonated. Boko Haram has not officially taken responsibility, though they are the main suspects and many people believe the militant group is rounding people up and forcing them into suicide bombing. In every case, the girl strapped to the bombs was killed.
If the body count in Baga is as high as officials estimate it is, it would be one of the worst Boko Haram attacks to date. Amnesty International is calling the raids the “deadliest massacre” in Boko Haram’s history.
“The attack on Baga and surrounding towns looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalog of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International. “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.”
Boko Haram has continually attacked northern Nigeria since 2009; they have targeted officials, civilians, women, children, and have kidnapped girls. In the most internationally known case, the militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April of last year – most of the girls are still missing, and attempts by the government to retrieve them have failed. The news inspired the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and protests insisting the Nigerian government and international governments do something to bring the schoolgirls home. Since then, at least 100 more girls have been kidnapped.
Boko Haram’s goal is to establish an Islamist state with strict Sharia law in Nigeria. Their attacks often disproportionately hurt and kill women and girls, though boys and men are also killed or are taken and forced to fight for the group.
Media Resources: CNN 1/12/2015, 1/11/2015; The Guardian 1/10/2015; TIME 1/9/2015; Amnesty International 1/9/2015; BBC News 1/8/2015; Feminist Newswire 12/23/2014, 5/5/2014