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Nigeria Admits Bandit Airstrike "Damage"

FILE - A Nigerian air force fighter flies behind trails of smoke above Kwenev airbase, on the outskirts of Makurdi, Nigeria, April. 21, 2017.
FILE - A Nigerian air force fighter flies behind trails of smoke above Kwenev airbase, on the outskirts of Makurdi, Nigeria, April. 21, 2017.

Nigerian authorities have acknowledged "collateral damage" from air strikes against criminal gangs in which local residents said around 100 civilians died.

The strikes were carried out on Saturday in the northwestern state of Zamfara, which is in the grip of so-called bandits notorious for attacks and ransom kidnappings.

Zamfara governor Bello Matawalle, in a statement published on Tuesday, expressed sympathy "to those who were injured and the families of those who died as a result of this collateral damage," without giving figures.

At least three residents told AFP that troops backed by a warplane engaged hundreds of gunmen who had attacked rural communities in Dansadau district in reprisal for the killing of 15 comrades by local self-defense vigilantes.

The jet bombarded the positions of the motorcycle-riding bandits, killing scores and forcing others to flee into the community, where they hid among residents.

"The jet pursued the bandits who ran into the neighboring Mutunji, Malele and Dansadau communities and pounded them," Dansadau resident Musa Sa'idu said.

"We lost a total of 102 people with dozens of others injured in the unfortunate bombings," said Sa'idu, who took part in the burial of the victims.

Mutunji resident Abbakar Sani confirmed Sa'idu's account to AFP by telephone, giving a breakdown of the fatalities.

"In Mutunji, 69 people were killed, 27 in Malele, and six in Dansadau. Many people are now in hospitals receiving treatment for serious injuries," Sani said.

According to a local community leader, 73 people were hospitalized due to injuries in the air strikes. He also confirmed a similar death toll from the air raid.

A spokesman for the Nigerian air force declined to comment.

Resident Mustapha Bello said around 190 bodies of bandits were also recovered from the attack in Mutunji, a claim supported by Sa'idu and Sani.

The bandits were drawn from four different gangs and came in large numbers, the three resident sources said.

"Thirteen soldiers were also killed in the fighting," Bello said.

That could not immediately be confirmed with the military.

There have been previous accidental airstrikes in northeastern Nigeria, where the military is fighting jihadists who are waging a 13-year insurgency.

In September last year an accidental Nigerian military airstrike on a village in Yobe state killed at least nine civilian residents, according to officials.

The Nigerian air force said its fighter jet was pursuing a group of jihadists in the area at the time.

In July 2019, at least 13 civilians were killed when a Nigerian fighter jet hit Gajiganna village, 50 kilometers from Borno State capital Maiduguri, as it targeted fleeing jihadists after they attacked a nearby base.

In January 2017 at least 112 people were killed when a jet struck a camp housing people displaced by jihadist violence in the town of Rann near the border with Cameroon.

The Nigerian military blamed "lack of appropriate marking of the area" for the bombardment in a report it issued six months later.