At least 46 severely injured people remain in a refugee camp that Nigeria’s military says it mistakenly bombed, the International Committee for the Red Cross said Wednesday, raising the possibility that the death toll could significantly rise.
The U.N. refugee chief called the killings “truly catastrophic.”
And a graphic new witness account by a Doctors Without Borders field coordinator said the camp was hit twice, with the military jet circling for a second bombing within minutes.
The Red Cross statement called for an urgent evacuation of the victims, saying that “patients are attended to in an open-air space in a precarious environment” in a remote community still threatened by Boko Haram extremists.
More than 100 refugees and aid workers were killed in Tuesday’s bombing in the northeast camp near the border with Cameroon, a government official has told The Associated Press. The Red Cross statement said an estimated 70 people were killed, plus at least six aid volunteers, and said it was “shocked” by the civilian deaths.
Nigeria’s military said it had been trying to target Boko Haram fighters. It is believed to be the first time Nigeria’s military has acknowledged making such a mistake in a region where villagers have reported civilian casualties in near-daily bombings targeting the extremists.
New details of the bombing emerged in a witness account by Doctors Without Borders field coordinator Alfred Davies. Writing in Time magazine, he said that “the first bomb fell at 12:30 p.m. and landed just a few meters away from the Red Cross office. The plane circled back around, and it dropped a second bomb five minutes later.”
The flow of wounded continued for hours, Davies wrote. “Some people had broken bones and torn flesh; their intestines hung down to the floor. I saw the bodies of children that had been cut in two.” In one hour alone, staffers counted 52 bodies.
The U.N. refugee chief, Filippo Grandi, called the bombing “a truly catastrophic event” and said a full investigation was needed to make sure it never happens again. The U.N. said the camp was set up in March and hosts 43,000 people who have fled Boko Haram’s insurgency.
The Red Cross is part of a humanitarian effort there to bring food to more than 25,000 displaced people, the group’s statement said.
At least 90 patients remained in Rann, the community where the bombing occurred, the Red Cross said. Nine patients in critical condition had been evacuated by helicopter to the northeastern city of Maiduguri.
Human Rights Watch called on Nigeria’s government to compensate the victims.
Even if the camp was not bombed intentionally, which would be a war crime, “the camp was bombed indiscriminately, violating international humanitarian law,” Human Rights Watch researcher Mausi Segun said in a statement.
Calling the bombing accidental doesn’t mean victims should be denied compensation, Segun said.
Nigeria’s presidency said a delegation was on the way to Rann, and the Borno state government posted on Facebook that 54 victims who had been taken to Maiduguri city were in stable condition. The statement said it was still too early to give an accurate death toll from the bombing.
“This kind of incident happens occasionally in war,” the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, said in a statement, adding that the military would take to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently announced that Boko Haram had been “crushed” and driven out of its strongholds, but attacks continue.
The humanitarian crisis created by the insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast has been called one of the worst in the world, and it has crossed into neighboring countries. Boko Haram’s uprising has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.6 million from their homes, with the United Nations warning more than 5 million people face starvation.