(LONDON) — The Nigerian Army mistakenly killed at least 88 people in a military drone strike on a religious festival in the country’s Kaduna State, local officials said.
Officials announced that what they described as an accidental strike had occurred on Sunday night in the village of Tudun Biri, Kaduna State, where civilians had gathered to observe a Muslim holiday celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, Mawlid al-Nabi.
“Following the two airstrikes, about 88 people died while no fewer than 68 people sustaining various degrees of injuries,” Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency announced in a statement. They called it a “tragic accident”.
“It is worthy of note that the casualties ranged from children, women and the elderly,” the agency said.
The victims were from four different communities, who had gathered in the village for the religious celebration.
An eyewitness to the incident described events to BBC Hausa, saying: “The aircraft dropped a bomb at the venue, it destroyed and killed our people including women and children.”
“The second bomb was dropped on some of us who went to bring dead bodies of the victims of the first blast. We lost about 34 people in my family, and we have 66 injured people in the hospital,” the eyewitness said.
The Nigerian Army “expressed regret” for the mistaken bombing, saying in a statement that troops “wrongly analysed and misinterpreted” activities.
“Troops were carrying out aerial patrols when they observed a group of people and wrongly analysed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits, before the drone strike,” the army said.
Nigeria’s army said that in the recent past areas of Tudun Biri and villages nearby had been “infested with armed bandits who terrorised communities.”
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s chief of army staff paid a condolence visit to the affected Tudun Biri, to convey the army’s “sincere regrets and unreserved apologies” to the community.
Injured civilians have been evacuated to Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital, where they are receiving necessary medical attention, Kaduna State’s Governor Dr. Jadiza Balarabe announced.
Anger has mounted in Nigeria, with some Nigerians taking to social media questioning how the error could have occurred.
“How does the Nigerian Army keep murdering civilians with air strikes and later claiming it to be an error?” asked one user.
“This is hard to understand” wrote another.
In a statement issued by the Nigerian State House, President Bola Tinubu sent his condolences to the families of victims of the “bombing mishap,” describing the incident as “very unfortunate, disturbing and painful.”
“The president directs a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident and calls for calm while the authorities look diligently into the mishap,” the statement said.
According to research firm SB Morgen, Nigerian geopolitical intelligence platform, at least 300 people have been killed in accidental military strikes since 2017.
Kaduna State government has announced it has established a commission of enquiry to investigate the incident.
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