Graphic satellite imagery released by human rights group Amnesty International in London on Thursday revealed the scale of death and destruction caused by militant group Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria in early January.The series of images suggest that the January attack on Baga and Doron Baga towns in the Borno state of Nigeria was the deadliest attack by the group so far. The images complement witness testimonies of the attack, Amnesty said.
“Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins,” said Daniel Eyre, Amnesty’s Nigeria researcher.
Amnesty said it commissioned satellite data of Baga and Doron Baga on January 2, the day before the attacks, and January 7, after the attack had taken place. The collateral damage seen in the images point to over 3,700 buildings in both towns being damaged or completely destroyed between January 2 and January 7.
In Doron Baga, more than 3,100 buildings were damaged or destroyed by a fire that affected most of the town, which is 4 square kilometres in size. At least 620 buildings were destroyed by fire in Baga, 2.5 kilometres from neighbouring Doron Baga, Amnesty said and added that the human cost of the attack remained unknown.
Until now, Amnesty said the attacks on Baga and Doron Baga were difficult to verify, and the scale unknown, since the region is isolated and largely controlled by Boko Haram. Phone lines were cut in previous attacks by both Boko Haram, and disabled by government authorities.
"Our data, showing two towns badly damaged by fire, with Doron Baga almost razed to the ground in five of days, corresponds with what eyewitnesses have told us - that fires destroyed their homes and the death toll alongside the destruction was on a scale not witnessed before," Amnesty said.
According to Eyre, "residents have not been able to return to bury the dead, let alone count their number. But through these satellite images combined with graphic testimonies, a picture of what is likely to be Boko Haram’s deadliest attack is becoming ever clearer."
The human rights group added that the reported exodus of residents of the two towns by boat was confirmed in images that show wooden fishing boats along the shorelines (both towns lie on the edge of Lake Chad) on January 2, absent by January 7 - corresponding with witnesses who told us that desperate residents fled by boat across Lake Chad.
The UN refugee agency has said that more than 11,300 Nigerian refugees have fled into neighbouring Chad. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday that its team in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, was providing assistance to 5,000 survivors of the attack.