Death Toll in Accidental Bombing of Nigerian Refugee Camp Rises to 70

FILE- In this Sunday, May 11, 2014 file photo, people stand outside burnt houses following an attack by Islamic militants in Gambaru, Nigeria. Thousands of members of Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist Boko Haram group strike across the border in Cameroon, with coordinated attacks on border towns, a troop convoy and a major barracks. Further north, Boko Haram employs recruits from Chad to enforce its control in northeastern Nigerian towns and cities. In Niger, the government has declared a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for international aid to help tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees driven from their homes by the insurgency. (AP Photo/Jossy Ola, File)
FILE- In this Sunday, May 11, 2014 file photo, people stand outside burnt houses following an attack by Islamic militants in Gambaru, Nigeria. Thousands of members of Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist Boko Haram group strike across the border in Cameroon, with coordinated attacks on border towns, a troop convoy and a major barracks. Further north, Boko Haram employs recruits from Chad to enforce its control in northeastern Nigerian towns and cities. In Niger, the government has declared a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for international aid to help tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees driven from their homes by the insurgency. (AP Photo/Jossy Ola, File)

The number of people killed in an accidental military bombing at a Nigerian camp for displaced people has increased to 70, aid groups said on Wednesday, with at least a dozen of them humanitarian workers. The mistaken attack came after a military plane targeted an area crowded with people fleeing Boko Haram militants.

Medical workers were scrambling on Wednesday to assemble equipment to treat dozens of severely injured people who were still awaiting evacuation from the camp in Rann, in northeastern Nigeria. At least 120 people were hurt in the errant strike on Tuesday by the Nigerian Air Force at the camp, which is near the Cameroon border and houses about 20,000 people. Initial reports put the death toll around 50.

Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian aid group, said six of its workers from Cameroon were among the dead. Six local workers for the Nigerian Red Cross were also killed, and 13 others were hurt.

Fifty-four injured people were flown to hospitals in Maiduguri, Nigeria, the capital of Borno State. Among them were two young children: a 7-year-old named Yaa Zara with a fractured arm and Kaka Hauwa, 5, whose neck was injured. One of the blasts was so forceful it knocked out two of Kaka’s teeth, the children’s mother, Fati Yasin, 35, said on Tuesday. She said she left her two children at their home in the camp to collect tickets for food distribution when she heard the loud buzz of a fighter jet overhead.

“We looked at it in the sky and before we knew it, it had dropped two bombs,” she said.

The bomb struck around noon Tuesday, just as aid workers were vaccinating children in the camp for measles and screening them for malnutrition, according to a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders.

In the wake of the bombing, human rights groups were trying to assess how the military could have mistaken such a crowded camp for Boko Haram fighters. A terrorism and counterterrorism researcher for Human Rights Watch circulated on Twitter an aerial view of the encampment dotted with tents and other structures. It is situated near a Nigerian military post.

The Nigerian military has been engaged in a fierce battle against Boko Haram, which has ties to the Islamic State, for years. Civilians have often borne the brunt of the war against Boko Haram as soldiers have been accused of rounding up and killing innocent people they suspected of being militants. The military has also been accused of accidentally killing civilians in airstrikes in the past.

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has declared victory over the militants on several occasions. But the conflict endures, even though military operations have made huge progress killing and arresting hundreds of fighters.

On Tuesday, Mr. Buhari said he regretted the error, and Nigerian military officials also expressed remorse, acknowledging they had targeted the wrong spot.

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SOURCE: NY Times Dionne Searcey