Nigerian soldiers have shot dead more than 30 civilians in the northeastern city of Maiduguri after a bomb blast struck their convoy, nurses at the hospital that received the bodies said.
Monday’s attack was carried out by soldiers attached to a special army unit policing Maiduguri.
The nurses in the Umaru Shehu hospital said 30 of the dead were in civilian clothes, while another five wore military uniforms.
“They brought in so many dead bodies. They were more than 30 civilians, in civilian dress. We counted five dead soldiers as well,” a nurse, who declined to be named, said.
Most had died of gunshot wounds, she added.
The killings are likely to stoke anger in a population already alienated by checkpoints, security force harassment and the threat of being killed by soldiers who are targets of Boko Haram’s increasingly bloody attacks, AP reported.
It said its reporter in Maiduguri counted the dead while on a tour of the still-smouldering neighbourhood on Monday afternoon.
The journalist saw no weapons or evidence that the dead belonged to Boko Haram, which has concentrated its attacks mainly in the predominantly Muslim north.
A soldier nearby, who did not identify himself, claimed the attack was a response to a bombing nearby on Monday that he said killed an army lieutenant.
“They killed our officer!” the soldier shouted. “We had no options!”
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from the capital Abuja, quoted an army spokesman as saying that “there was an attack on an armed patrol vehicle in which it is believed two to four soldiers were killed”.
“The spokesperson did not give exact figures – he said that they [soldiers] did sustain casualties and that there were some injured security personnel,” she said.
The AP reporter said he saw about 50 homes as well as businesses burnt by soldiers. The premises are near the Nigerian Union of Journalists state office and other buildings in Maiduguri.
It appeared the soldiers attacked the area using assault rifles and heavy machine guns mounted on
armoured personnel carriers, the AP reported.
Rounds shot from the heavy machine guns destroyed cars and set roofs on fire, which razed buildings and caused damage at a two-story shopping complex.
The journalist accompanied Zanna Umar Mustapha, the deputy governor of Borno state, on the tour.
State officials declined to comment about the killings and urged those traveling with the convoy not to take photographs of the destruction out of fear of further alienating those living in the region.
Nigeria’s military has been accused of committing so-called “extrajudicial killings” while in pursuit of Boko Haram.
The military now routinely claims massive operations with dozens of people killed, always referred to as Boko Haram members or sympathisers, announcements that cannot be independently verified.
The military also downplays its own casualties suffered during the operations.
Boko Haram has killed both Christians and Muslims in their attacks, as well as soldiers and security forces.