ABUJA — Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for an attack on a prison in the northern city Maiduguri earlier this month. This comes amid reports that the death toll and the destruction from the attack was far greater than originally reported.
In a video sent to journalists Monday, a rag-tag but sizeable looking force attacks a wall. The men carry rifles and machine guns, some of which are mounted on cars. Some of the attackers wear fatigues, others trench coats. Cars burn and hundreds of people jog towards the cameras.
In an accompanying video, Abubakar Shekau, the man who claims to lead Boko Haram, says it was his men who attacked Giwa Barracks prison in Maiduguri on March 14.
On that day, Nigeria's military said the attack was "foiled." But since then reports of heavy casualties among fleeing prisoners have surfaced. A doctor and an environmental workersaid more than 400 bodies had been buried in three mass graves.
Clement Nwankwo, of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja, says, “I think what has happened is the government is certainly overwhelmed by what is going on and it's because of that that makes it difficult for them to come out with a single account of these attacks.”
The military said the Giwa attack was an attempt by desperate militants to “to boost their depleted stock of fighters." The army has repeatedly announced the capture and killing of large numbers of militants since launching an offensive against Boko Haram last May.
But large-scale attacks continue. The United Nations says the Boko Haram insurgency has grown “increasingly monstrous” this year and more than half a million Nigerians have been displaced by the violence.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, speaking recently in Abuja, said, “"The group has targeted some people simply because of their religion or professional occupation. They have burned down houses, churches, clinics and schools. They have murdered children in their beds. Some of its members are reported to have abducted and raped women and girls.”
Human Rights Watch says 700 people have been killed this year alone by the insurgency. Thousands of other deaths have been blamed on Boko Haram since it began violent operations in 2009.
The United States last year declared Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization, and both Nigeria and the U.S. have offered rewards for the capture of Abubakar Shekau.
The U.S. reward offer stands at $7 million.
Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from Maiduguri.