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Nigeria admits to mistakenly bombing, killing dozens of refugees in Boko Haram fight

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria - A Nigerian state official says an Air Force fighter jet on a mission against Boko Haram extremists has mistakenly bombed a refugee camp, killing more than 100 refugees and wounding aid workers.

The Borno state government official is helping to coordinate the evacuation of wounded. The official spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters. 

Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor originally told reporters the accidental bombardment in northeastern Rann, near the border with Cameroon, killed “some” civilians and wounded aid workers including Nigerians working for Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Two soldiers also were wounded, he said.

In a statement, Doctors Without Borders condemned the attack, and said 52 people had been killed.

“This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable,” said Dr. Jean-Clément Cabrol, MSF director of operations. “The safety of civilians must be respected. We are urgently calling on all parties to ensure the facilitation of medical evacuations by air or road for survivors who are in need of emergency care.”  

Irabor said he ordered the mission based on information that Boko Haram insurgents were gathering, along with geographic coordinates.

It was too early to say if a tactical error was made, he said.

The general, who is the theater commander for counterinsurgency operations in northeast Nigeria, said the air force would not deliberately target civilians but there will be an investigation.

This is believed to be the first time Nigeria’s military has admitted to making such a mistake. Villagers in the past have reported some civilian casualties in near-daily bombardments in northeastern Nigeria, as the government presses its fight against the extremists.

In December, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claimed Boko Haram had been “crushed,” but the fighting has since continued.