Nigeria mistakenly bombs displaced persons camp, killing 236

People in Gambaru, Nigeria, stand outside burnt houses following an attack by Boko Haram in May 2014. (AP Photo/Jossy Ola, File)

Update 1/23: The Nigerian air force said 236 people died as a result of the bombing today, reports the AP.

An airstrike intended to hit Boko Haram militants struck a camp for people displaced by fighting in the region, military officials told the media. At least 236 people are feared dead, one local official told the Associated Press.

“Somehow, some civilians were killed. We are yet to ascertain the number of persons killed in the air strike,”  regional military Com. Gen. Lucky Irabor told reporters, according to Reuters. “Many civilians including personnel of International Committee of the Red Cross and Medicins Sans Frontieres were wounded.”

At least six aid workers from the Nigerian Red Cross were killed and another 13 were wounded, the organization said on Twitter. A spokesman declined to comment beyond what the organization’s Africa Twitter account is publishing.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed that some of its staff were injured as authorities and aid groups scrambled to respond. MSF reported that it is treating 120 wounded patients with first aid. It “strongly condemned” the aerial bombing in a statement to Humanosphere.

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“This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable,” Jean-Clément Cabrol, MSF director of operations, said in the statement. “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.”

The camp in the northeastern town of Rann hosted Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram. An estimated 25,000 people are living in the camp, according to Red Cross. The Islamist militant group has terrorized the region forcing people to flee from the homes. The U.N. estimates that more than 2 million people have been displaced since 2013.

Government forces are fighting Boko Haram both on the ground and in the air. Human rights groups have accused all sides of human rights violations during the campaign. Nigerian forces are carrying out extrajudicial killings and torture of Boko Haram members and civilians, Amnesty International has reported.

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Airstrikes affecting civilians have been reported across the region. However, this is the first time the government admitted a mistake of this nature. Irabor confirmed that an investigation would take place to determine what went wrong. He told reporters that the strike did not deliberately target civilians.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the University of Maiduguri this week. At least four people died and 15 wounded when a teenage girl blew herself up in a suicide attack.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.