At least 110 people have been killed in a weekend attack on agricultural workers in northeastern Nigeria accused of jihadists, the UN humanitarian coordinator said in the country on Sunday, making it the deadliest attack on civilians this year.
The attack, in a state gripped by a jihadist uprising for more than ten years, took place on the same day as long-delayed local elections in the state.
“I am outraged and appalled by the brutal attack on civilians by non-governmental armed groups in villages near the Borno capital, Maiduguri,” Edward Kallon said in a statement.
“At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others injured in this attack.”
The first tolls indicated 43 and then at least 70 deaths after the Saturday massacre.
Nigeria buries farmers killed in suspected Boko Haram attack
Some locals blamed the attack on Boko Haram fighters, but Bulama Bukarti, an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute, said the rival IS-affiliated province of West Africa (ISWAP) was more active in the area.
“ISWAP is the likely perpetrator,” he tweeted.
Kallon said in his statement: “The incident is the most violent direct attack on innocent civilians this year.
“I demand that the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act be brought to justice,” he added.
The violence targeted the village of Koshobe near Borno state capital Maiduguri, with attackers targeting farm workers harvesting rice fields. An anti-jihadist militia for the government said the attackers tied up the workers and cut their throats.
Kallon said the attackers – “armed men on motorcycles” – also targeted other communities in the area.
“Rural communities in the state of Borno are facing countless difficulties,” he added, demanding that more be done to protect them and address what he said was a looming food crisis there.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted his reaction on Sunday, saying he was “deeply shocked by another terrible attack on innocent civilians” in the region.
“We must continue our collective commitment to terrorism and violence to bring peace, security and stability to all people in Africa,” he wrote.
Borno Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum attended the funeral Sunday in the nearby village of Zabarmari of 43 bodies that had recovered on Saturday, saying tolls could rise after the search resumes.
The victims included dozens of workers from Sokoto State in northwestern Nigeria, about 1,000 kilometers away, who had traveled to the northeast to find work.
Six were injured in the attack and eight disappeared as of Saturday.
Kallon, referring to “reports that several women may have been abducted”, demanded that they be released immediately.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack on Saturday, saying: “The whole country has been injured by these senseless killings.”
Neither the president’s statement nor Sunday’s reactions from the EU and the UN mentioned either Boko Haram or ISWAP by name.
But both groups have been active in Borno State, their attacks have forced the launch of places in Borno State, which finally took place on Saturday.
Ten years of violence
The two groups have been accused of increasing attacks on fellers, farmers and fishermen whom they accuse of spying for the army and government militias.
They have also targeted them for not paying a tax that they impose on anyone financially active in certain parts of the state.
Last month, Boko Haram militants attacked 22 farmers working in their irrigation fields near Maiduguri in two separate attacks.
At least 36,000 people have been killed in the jihadist conflict, which has forced some two million people to flee their homes since 2009.
Violence has also spread to nearby Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the militants.