The army mission had targeted rebels but instead killed Muslims as they gathered for a religious celebration on Sunday FILE PHOTO: Soldiers from the Nigerian Armed Forces patrol and secure the streets in Lagos Island, Lagos. © JOHN WESSELS / AFP

At least 85 people were killed in an alleged military drone strike in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state over the weekend, according to local authorities. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has ordered a probe into the incident.

The bombing on Sunday night was intended to target insurgents in Tundun Biri in the Igabi area, but it “mistakenly killed” dozens of civilians and injured “many others,” Kaduna State Governor Uba Sani told the media on Monday. The victims were Muslims who had gathered to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

“The Northwest Zonal Office has received details from the local authorities that 85 dead bodies have so far been buried while [the] search is still ongoing,” the Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday.

Tinubu, who is in Dubai for the UN Climate Conference (COP28) has described the attack as “very unfortunate, disturbing, and painful.”

“The president directs a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident and calls for calm while the authorities look diligently into the mishap,” Tinubu’s spokesman Ajuri Ngelale said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has denied any involvement in the mission that resulted in the attack on Sunday.

“The news making the rounds alleging that Nigerian Air Force aircraft accidentally killed innocent civilians in Kaduna is false,” the NAF said in a statement on Monday.

While the Nigerian Army has yet to issue an official statement, the state government quoted its chief in charge of operations in Kaduna, Major General Valentine Okoro, as saying during a meeting on Monday that the drone strike was a routine mission against militants.

According to UN estimates, more than 40,000 people have been killed and 2 million others displaced in the decade-long conflict between jihadists and the Nigerian government.

‘Jihadist vengeance’ leaves at least 40 dead in Nigeria ‘Jihadist vengeance’ leaves at least 40 dead in Nigeria

The West African nation’s military has been unleashing lethal aerial assaults for years in a fight against Islamist insurgents and bandits in Nigeria’s troubled northeast, northwest, and central states. Officials blame the armed groups for raids on villages, attacks on military infrastructure, and kidnappings for ransom.

Bombing raids have previously resulted in civilian casualties. Late last year, the Nigerian Army announced that it was investigating the alleged killing of more than 62 civilians in NAF airstrikes targeting terrorists in the Mutumji community in northwest Zamfara state. In 2017, a fighter jet struck a camp housing 40,000 people displaced by jihadist violence in Rann, Borno State, killing at least 112 people.

President Tinubu recently approved a $2.8 billion supplementary budget to fund pressing issues such as defense and security, which he described as his government’s top priority.

Earlier last month, the UK joined Canada and the US in advising its citizens to avoid nonessential travel to its former colony, citing terrorist attacks. Mohammad Idris, Nigeria’s information minister, condemned the move, claiming it was causing economic harm to Africa’s most populous nation. (RT)