Satellite images released Thursday by Amnesty International show the extent of the damage inflicted by the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram on a town in northeast Nigeria.
Amnesty said the images taken of the fishing town Baga and the nearby town of Doron Baga show the ruins of numerous buildings destroyed last week in a Boko Haram raid.
In their more than five-year quest to establish an Islamic state with strict religious laws, the insurgents have carried out numerous attacks, including kidnappings and suicide bombings across Nigeria’s north and middle belt.
Last week’s assault on Baga was particularly brutal: Local politicians said hundreds of people were killed. Nigeria's military said about 150 people perished in the attacks.
“The satellite images that we have show that the attacks on the Baga and the surrounding towns were of an enormous scale," said Daniel Eyre, a Nigeria researcher for Amnesty. "The town next to Baga, that is Doron Baga, the satellite images show that more that 3,100 buildings were destroyed in the attack. That means almost the entire town was razed.”
The before-and-after imagery also shows missing vehicles and boats, signs of an exodus from the town.
“Many of the vehicles and boats that were there before the attack are now gone," Eyre said. "So this is consistent with witness testimony that describes thousands of people fleeing to the capital of that state, Maiduguri, but also across Lake Chad, to Chad. And the estimates that we have suggest that several thousand people fled the violence in Baga.”
Worst attack recorded
Thousands of Nigerians have died at the hands of Boko Haram, but Eyre said this was the worst attack in Nigeria that Amnesty had documented.
“This is the most severe destruction that we’ve seen by Boko Haram so far," he said. "The conflict has really escalated over the last 12 months. We’ve seen the group kill more than 4,000 civilians in 2014 alone. And in the last six months, they’ve taken over many towns like Baga in northeast Nigeria. And this appears to be not only the heaviest damage that we’ve seen so far, but also the highest number of people killed.”
Many of those who fled the town remain missing. Eyre said Amnesty had received reports of Boko Haram militants hiding in trees outside Baga, shooting people trying to escape.
Assault repelled in Borno state
Earlier, the Nigerian army said it repelled an assault by Boko Haram elsewhere in Borno state.
The military said on its Twitter feed that soldiers pushed back a "terrorist attack" early Wednesday on the town of Biu. It said troops were pursuing the attackers after capturing five gunmen and two anti-aircraft guns.
Residents said Boko Haram fighters invaded the town in pickup trucks and motorcycles but were intercepted by troops from a nearby army barracks. They said at least 17 of the militants were killed during a three-hour gunbattle.
Boko Haram's dominance in the northeast and the ongoing violence have raised doubts about whether voting for next month's presidential election can take place in Borno and two neighboring states.
President Goodluck Jonathan is facing what appears to be a strong challenge from a new coalition of opposition parties and their presidential candidate, former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari.
Chad to help Cameroon
Also Wednesday, Chad said it was ready to actively help Cameroon fight Boko Haram militants attacking it from Nigeria, and it called on other countries in the region to translate pledges of support into concrete action.
Chad's offer came days after an appeal by Cameroon's President Paul Biya for international military help to fight the Islamist militant group.
Cameroon's north is now regularly attacked by the Islamists, who highlighted their regional threat this month by seizing a military base in Nigeria meant to be used by a joint force from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon to fight them.
“Faced by this situation that seriously threatens the security and stability of Chad ... the Chadian government will not sit here and do nothing,” government spokesman Hassan Sylla Bakari said in a statement Wednesday.
“The government expresses its solidarity with Cameroon and is ready to provide active support in the courageous and determined response of its armed forces against the criminals and terrorists of Boko Haram.”
The statement did not give any detail about what form the support would take, but it followed a visit to Chad by Cameroon's defense minister Wednesday.
Cameroon has dispatched elite troops to its north, where militants have launched a series of raids and set up training camps. The government said it killed 143 militants in fighting on Monday.
Military sources in Niger, to the west, said gunmen suspected of being from Boko Haram killed a civilian in the village of Gaidam Tchoukou, in Diffa region.
Chad's military has a reputation for being one of the best in the region. It helped French forces drive al-Qaida-linked Islamists from northern Mali in 2013.
France has sought to overcome lingering distrust among the countries in the region by helping coordinate efforts against Boko Haram.
However, Boko Haram highlighted the scale of the task to pull together an effective regional response when it seized the headquarters of the regional task force whose mission is to tackle the Islamists.
“It is time for our nations to translate into clear and concrete action the good will we have repeatedly spoken of,” the Chadian government added in its statement.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.