Fighting continued yesterday for Baga, a town on the border with Chad that insurgents attacked on Wednesday and where they seized a key military base on January 3, according to Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency.
“Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted air strikes against militant targets,” he said.
District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims were children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on residents.
“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” said Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram.
He said the civilian fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies: “No-one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now.”
Amnesty International said there were reports the town was razed and as many as 2000 people were killed. Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International, said that if the figure is accurate, it “marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught.”
US state department spokesman Jen Psaki condemned the attacks.
“We urge Nigeria and its neighbours to take all possible steps to address the urgent threat of Boko Haram,” she said.
“Even in the face of these horrifying attacks, terrorist organisations like Boko Haram must not distract Nigeria from carrying out credible and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the Nigerian people.”
The previous bloodiest day in the uprising involved soldiers gunning down unarmed detainees freed in a attack on Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri city in March last year.
Amnesty said satellite imagery indicated more than 600 people were killed that day.
The five-year insurgency killed more than 10,000 people last year alone, according to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
More than one million people are displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands have fled across its borders into Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, in another development yesterday, a bomb explosion in a market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri killed at least 16 people and injured more than 20.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, is often bombed as it lies in the heartland of the Boko Haram insurgency. A security source said at least 11 people were killed and 24 injured by the bomb, which went off at 12.15 p.m.
Civilian joint task force member Zakariya Mohammed said there were at least 16 bodies of bomb victims counted in one hospital by mid-afternoon.
Boko Haram’s revolt is seen as the gravest security threat to the country of 170 million people and a major headache for president Goodluck Jonathan ahead of an election on February 14.