Newly released satellite images of Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram have showed widespread destruction and suggest a high death toll, Amnesty International says.
The images show some 3,700 structures damaged or destroyed in Baga and Doron Baga, Borno State this month, Amnesty said. The Federal Government of Nigeria has disputed reports that as many as 2,000 were killed, putting the toll at just 150. Amnesty cited witnesses saying that militants had killed indiscriminately. It said the damage was "catastrophic".
There has been a surge in violence linked to Boko Haram. In the past week there have been several attacks, including by suspected child suicide bombers. Amnesty said the attack on Baga and Doron Baga was the largest and deadliest Boko Haram assault that it had analysed. It said about 620 structures had been destroyed in Baga, and more than 3,100 in Doro Baga.
The before and after satellite images were taken on 2 January and 7 January. Healthy vegetation is shown in red on the graphics. Many wooden fishing boats that dot the shoreline on 2 January are no longer visible five days later.
"These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days," Daniel Eyre, an Amnesty researcher, said in a statement.
"It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins," he said. Reports said that while the images show the destructive nature of Boko Haram, they do not help establish just how many people were killed.
Last week, Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in the area, said that fleeing residents told him that Baga, which had a population of about 10,000, was now "virtually non-existent". "It has been burnt down," he told the BBC Hausa service.
Officials said militants had attacked Baga on 7 January, four days after overrunning a multinational military base in the town that had been abandoned by Nigerian troops. Amnesty's Adotei Akwei said although it was still difficult to access the area where the attack took place, the Nigerian government was "grossly understating" the death toll.
"They killed so many people; I saw maybe around 100 killed at that time in Baga. I ran to the bush. As we were running, they were shooting and killing," a man told Amnesty.