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Satellite images reveal ‘catastrophic’ scale of Boko Haram massacres

Amnesty International releases before and after photographs of towns thought razed by armed group

Human rights group Amnesty International has released satellite images showing what it calls "indisputable and shocking evidence" of the scale of the latest Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria — the “catastrophic” razing of whole communities, resulting in as many as 2,000 deaths.

Before and after images of the neighboring towns Baga and Doro Gowon in northern Nigeria, taken on Jan. 2 and 7, appear to reveal the devastating effect of the attacks, with more than 3,700 structures damaged or destroyed.

Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over that period, Amnesty said Thursday.

"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," said Daniel Eyre, a Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

Boko Haram has been behind a surge in violence in Nigeria over the last year. The armed group, which seeks to carve out a separate state in the country's north to be governed in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law, has been noted for its brutality against civilian targets.

Amnesty said interviews with witnesses, local government officials and human rights activists suggest hundreds of civilians were shot. Last week the rights group noted reports of as many as 2,000 dead. The Nigerian military has cited a figure of 150 casualties, including slain fighters. 

"Of all Boko Haram assaults analyzed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burned-out ruins," Eyre added.

Before and after satellite images from Jan. 2 and Jan. 7, 2015, indicate that almost all structures in Baga have been razed. The red areas indicate healthy vegetation.

The images show just two of the many towns and villages that fell victim to a series of Boko Haram attacks that began on Jan. 3.

Amnesty said it was told by one survivor, "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." He hid in the bush and was later discovered by Boko Haram fighters, who detained him in Doron Baga for four days.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday that its team in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, was providing assistance to 5,000 survivors of the attack.

Those who fled describe seeing many corpses in the bush. "I don’t know how many, but there were bodies everywhere we looked," one woman told Amnesty.

Security analysts have said that it may be impossible to know exactly how many were killed, with the town and surrounding area still in rebel control and access impossible. 

The Baga attack came before presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria next month, with the surge in violence apparently designed to undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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