Hundreds of people are dying in military detention as Nigeria's security forces crack down on an Islamic uprising in the northeast, Amnesty International said Tuesday. Some people have been shot, some are starving and others suffocating to death, the organization said in a statement that called for an urgent investigation.
"Others were reportedly shot in the leg during interrogations, provided no medical care and left to bleed to death," the London-based human rights group said in a new report that includes testimony from freed detainees.
More than 950 people died in military custody in the first six months of this year, according to "credible information" from a senior Nigerian army officer. If true, that would mean that Nigeria's military has killed more civilians this year than the extremist group, Boko Haram.
Two military spokesmen did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday, a public holiday as Muslims celebrate the feast of Eid al-Adha.
The killings and deaths documented by Amnesty International may help answer questions raised by an Associated Press report in August that detailed how hundreds of detainees have gone missing since the government imposed a state of emergency May 14 on three northeastern states that cover one-sixth of Nigeria.
The AP report said hundreds of people were being rounded up, often indiscriminately, in night raids. It said distraught relatives, human rights organizations and journalists have asked the army, the police, intelligence services and government officials where the arrested people are, but have not been provided with answers.
Human rights activist Shehu Sani of the northern-based Nigerian Civil Rights Congress said he believes thousands are detained.
Nigeria's security forces are notorious for extrajudicial killings, according to rights groups and witnesses, and in an atmosphere of deep suspicion and fear, it is easy for people to settle personal grudges by identifying someone as a suspected terrorist.
Amnesty International said those killed were detained as suspected members or associates of the Boko Haram network, which has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of Muslim and Christian civilians this year in their efforts to uproot democracy in Nigeria and establish an Islamic state.
"This is a staggeringly high figure that requires urgent action by the Nigerian government," said Lucy Freeman, Amnesty's deputy Africa director. "The details of what happens behind locked doors in these shadowy detention facilities must be exposed, and those responsible for any human rights violations brought to book."
Local and international human rights activists warned when thousands of troops were deployed in May that abuses by the military could help fuel the rebellion.
Civilians in northeast Nigeria and some 30,000 refugees who have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger have said that they fear Nigeria's military as much as they do Boko Haram.
Refugees have described instances of soldiers attacked by the militants avenging themselves on civilians.