Witnesses said on Wednesday that an air-fired weapon in Nigeria killed at least 21 members of a civil defense group as they responded to an attack by gunmen in the country’s restive north.
Officials have not said who was responsible for the strike, which residents said came from a drone. It happened in Niger State, one of Nigeria’s most vulnerable regions, while close to the capital Abuja.
Ayuba Lagodo, a member of a civil defense group trying to protect the villagers, said a drone strike was carried out shortly after residents in Gladimakogo reported the attack. Such defense groups are common in the north of Nigeria, where inadequate official security exists in many hot spots of violence.
At least 21 people were confirmed dead after Tuesday’s strike. Lagodo said the death toll could rise as many people were seriously injured or missing.
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While it was unclear who launched the drone, blame quickly fell on the Nigeria Air Force, which has carried out similar attacks in recent years.
Federal police in Niger state told The Associated Press on Wednesday that a military operation had been launched in the state. However, spokespersons for the Nigerian Air Force and Nigeria’s Defense Headquarters are yet to respond to media inquiries.
Marie Noel-Berge, chief press secretary to Niger’s governor, said two state government officials had 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 heavily strained the country’s armed forces.
In 2017, more than 100 people were killed when a bomb was accidentally dropped on a refugee camp. Some Nigerian army soldiers died in 2021 after a fighter jet, which security forces said were extremists, bombed their truck.
“‘Accidental’ attacks in Nigeria are very widespread. We can blame it on faulty intel,” said Confidence McHarry, a security analyst at the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm.
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He added that lack of accountability also plays a role.
“In the history of all these airstrikes on civilians, not a single person has been punished,” McHarry said.