At least 85 civilians were accidentally killed by a drone strike on a religious event in Nigeria on Sunday, according to the local emergency management authority.
The attack took place in Tundun Biri village in the northwestern Kaduna state, where residents took part in an annual Maulud Muslim celebration. In a statement Monday, state Governor Uba Sani said the victims were “mistakenly killed” by a military drone which had been “targeting terrorists and bandits.”
Many others were wounded in the attack, Sani said, adding that he had ordered an “immediate investigation into the tragic incident.” Nigerian President Bola Tinubu similarly requested an investigation into the “bombing mishap,” his spokesman Ajuri Ngelale said in a statement Tuesday. “President Tinubu describes the incident as very unfortunate, disturbing, and painful, expressing indignation and grief over the tragic loss of Nigerian lives,” Ngelale added, without disclosing the number of casualties.
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said 85 had died and 66 were injured in the attack, according to Reuters, though witnesses claimed the true toll was higher and that women and children were among the dead. The BBC said the country’s Defense Ministry had described the strike as a “needless tragedy,” and that a routine operation targeting militants had “inadvertently affected members of the community.”
For years, the Nigerian armed forces have fought militants and armed criminals in the north of the country who kidnap residents for ransom and raid villages. Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu said soldiers conducting aerial patrols on Sunday spotted a group of people and “wrongly [analyzed] and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits,” according to Reuters.
Witnesses told the news agency that the first blast boomed through Tundun Biri at around 9:00 p.m. People initially fled from the loud noise, returning to help the injured and move the dead when they realized there had been an explosion.
Around half 30 minutes later, a second deadly explosion tore through the village, witnesses claimed. Musa Shehu said he’d lost two wives in the attack, which also hospitalized his youngest daughter. “Body parts, mostly children, were littered on building roofs and tree branches,” he told Reuters. “We packed them in empty grain bags and deposited them alongside bodies of the dead that were not seriously mutilated.”
Another survivor, Shehu Bala, claimed they’d counted 97 bodies, “many of them women and children.”
“Some infants who survived were taken away from their dead nursing mothers,” Bala said. “It’s a terrible experience.”