President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria on Tuesday called for an investigation into a drone attack by his country’s military that killed scores of civilians on Sunday, the latest in a series of accidental bombings that have hit local populations.
The strike on Sunday evening in a village in the northern state of Kaduna, where armed groups have been rampant, came as Muslim worshipers gathered for a religious holiday, according to the local authorities.
As of Tuesday, at least 85 people had been pronounced dead, including children, women and older people, Nigeria’s main emergency body, the National Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement.
At least 66 others were injured, and the search for more bodies was continuing, it said. Although there have been other accidental bombings in the past decade, Amnesty International said that this one was by far the deadliest and that the death toll was closer to 120 people.
Mr. Tinubu called for “a thorough and full-fledged investigation” into what he called a “bombing mishap,” describing the events as “very unfortunate, disturbing and painful,” according to a statement released by the Nigerian presidency.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, visited Tudun Biri, the village hit by the strike, and admitted the army’s responsibility. He said that aerial patrols had “observed a group of people and wrongly analyzed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits.”
Since he was sworn in as president in May, Mr. Tinubu has made tackling insecurity a high priority. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with 220 million people, has been troubled by Islamist groups in the east and countless armed gangs carrying out widespread killings and abductions in its northern and western states.
At least 700 civilians were killed from July to September, according to SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian risk consultancy. Kidnappings of priests, teachers, schoolchildren and commuters have plagued the country for years.
Nigeria’s security forces have struggled to contain the violence. Its military is the largest in West Africa and has been a major recipient of American security assistance, but it has also been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including forced abortions and indiscriminate killings.
“Despite reports of civilian casualties from Nigerian Armed Forces airstrikes and other concerns, the flow of U.S. weapons into Nigeria has not slowed,” researchers at Brown University and the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit group, wrote in a report published last year.
Isa Sanusi, the country director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, said the strike on Sunday had killed at least 120 civilians, according to his organization’s own tally.
“The Nigerian military is used to not being held to account and getting away with these atrocities,” Mr. Sanusi said in a telephone interview. “That is making them less diligent and more reckless.”
Before the strike on Sunday, at least 90 civilians had been killed in aerial strikes carried out by the Nigerian Air Force in the past five years, according to a Reuters analysis of a tally by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a U.S.-based crisis monitoring organization.
The tally did not include civilian deaths in the three northeastern states where most of the extremist violence has taken place.
Ismail Alfa contributed reporting from Maiduguri, Nigeria.