LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The Nigerian air force says it is investigating reports that shots fired from one of its jets in the northeast killed civilians.
This would be the fourth major accidental killing of civilians by the air force in less than 5 years as it faces criticism about such incidents.
Military spokesperson Edward Gabkwet said the air force received reports alleging that “some civilians were erroneously killed while others were injured” in the operation on Wednesday in Yobe State near its border with the West African nation of Niger.
Air Commodore Gabkwet did not specify the casualty toll, but a health worker at Geidam General Hospital said at least 30 people had been brought there by military trucks with various degrees of injuries. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to press.
Malam Baba Gana, a resident in the area, said, “I saw many injured persons brought in (at the hospital) by two trucks.," adding that there was a significant amount of blood.
Gabkwet said the air force was targeting Boko Haram extremists moving along the Kamadougou Yobe River, an area which he said is “well known for continuous activities” by Boko Haram and its offshoot the Islamic State in West Africa Province, known as ISWAP.
“The aircraft while operating south of Kanama observed suspicious movement consistent with Boko Haram terrorists behavior whenever a Jet aircraft is overhead. Accordingly, the pilot fired some probing shots….Unfortunately, reports reaching Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Headquarters alleged that some civilians were erroneously killed while others were injured,” he said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Yobe Governor Mai Mala Buni confirmed the incident but did not give details of what happened. In a statement issued at midnight, he said it “could have been an accident or mistaken target” and added that the state “will work closely with the security forces to establish what actually happened.”
He said it is “very important and necessary for us to guard against future occurrence” and directed free medical services to “those who sustained injuries from the airstrike”.
The military also said it is investigating the circumstances further after initial reports indicated the air force carried out a bombing. The military has denied, however, that its aircraft was carrying bombs.
The Nigerian military has killed civilians in a growing number of incidents in recent years. Since 2017, there have been three previous incidents of accidental bombing reported in the northeast where a war against Boko Haram and ISWAP militants has been going on for more than a decade.
Another incident took place four months ago when some soldiers of the Nigerian army were reportedly killed after a fighter jet targeting the extremists mistakenly bombed a military truck in Borno State. In 2017, more than 100 persons were killed when a refugee camp was mistakenly bombed.
The Nigerian military blamed that incident on “lack of appropriate marking” and Femi Falana, a senior Nigerian lawyer, told The Associated Press on Thursday that there is no compensation yet for the victims more than four years after.
Apart from the accidental bombings, three military aircraft have also crashed in 2021, including one in May that killed the Nigerian chief of army staff.
Associated Press journalist Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.