By Garba Muhammad
KADUNA, Nigeria, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Civilians were killed in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state following a military drone attack targeting insurgents and bandits on Sunday night, the state governor, a religious leader and witnesses said on Monday.
Nigeria’s military, which is backed by the United States, Britain and other non-Western allies in a long war against Islamist insurgents in the northeast, has also been unleashing deadly aerial assaults for years in other parts of the country.
Kaduna governor Uba Sani said Muslims taking part in Maulud celebrations in Tudun Biri village “were mistakenly killed and many others injured following a military drone attack targeting terrorists and bandits”.
Sani gave no indication of the numbers involved, but a religious leader put it at 50 dead and two witnesses said 80 had been killed. Reuters could not independently confirm the numbers due to the security challenges in the region.
Sani’s deputy had earlier called a security meeting that was attended by heads of security agencies, religious and traditional leaders to review the incident.
“The General Officer Commanding One Division Nigerian Army, Major VU Okoro explained that the Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently affected members of the community,” Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna’s internal affairs commissioner said in a statement after the meeting.
He did not provide further details when asked by reporters.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Onyeama Nwachukwu did not respond to a request for comment.
The Air Force said it was not involved in the operation.
Sheikh Rabiu Abdullahi, a religious leader who attended Monday’s meeting told reporters that a suspected air strike had killed at least 50 people during a religious celebration.
“Over 50 innocent people who gathered for the Maulud (celebration) lost their lives in the bombing,” he said, adding that this was disclosed during the security briefing.
Danjuma Salisu, a survivor, said villagers first heard the sound of an approaching aeroplane, which was followed by a large blast.
“We couldn’t even run. It was a loud bang that left over 80 people dead and many of us injured,” he said from a hospital bed, where he was being treated for hand and leg injuries.
Abubakar Inua, a villager from Tudun Biri, told Reuters on the phone: “We have counted over 80 corpses who were buried.”
Beyond the war zone in the northeast, the army and air force has been called on to tackle the growing threat in Nigeria’s northwest and central region, including in Kaduna state, posed by armed criminal gangs that spray villages with bullets and carry out mass kidnappings.
The government has labelled the gangs “terrorists”.