At least 21 members of a civil defense group were killed in Nigeria by a gun fired from the air as they responded to an attack by gunmen in the country’s restive north, witnesses said Wednesday.
Authorities did not say who was responsible for the raid, which residents described as coming from a drone. It took place in Niger State, which is one of the most insecure regions in Nigeria despite its proximity to the capital, Abuja.
Ayuba Lagudu, a member of the civil defense group trying to protect villagers, said a drone strike struck shortly after residents reported an attack in progress in Galademakogo. Such defensive groups are common in northern Nigeria, where many hotspots of violence have an inadequate official security presence.
At least 21 people were confirmed dead after Tuesday’s raid. Lagudo said the death toll was likely to rise because many people were seriously injured or missing.
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While it was not clear who launched the drone, blame quickly fell on the Nigerian Air Force, which has carried out similar strikes in recent years.
The Federal Police in Niger state told the Associated Press on Wednesday that a military operation was conducted in the state. However, spokespersons for the Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Defense Headquarters have yet to respond to media inquiries.
Marie-Noelle Berge, press secretary to Niger’s governor, said two state government officials have launched an investigation into the incident.
Military airstrikes are common in Nigeria, where an Islamist insurgency in the northeast and violent attacks by armed groups in the northwest and central regions have exhausted the country’s armed forces.
In 2017, more than 100 people were killed when a refugee camp was bombed by mistake. Some Nigerian army soldiers were killed in 2021 after a fighter jet that security forces said was targeting extremists bombed their truck.
“‘Accidental’ strikes are very rampant in Nigeria. One of the things we can attribute to misinformation,” said Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst with Lagos-based security firm SBM Intelligence.
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He added that a lack of accountability also plays a role.
“No one in the history of all these airstrikes on civilians has been punished,” McCurry said.