The jihadist group Boko Haram has pulled off perhaps the deadliest attack in its ongoing five-year long insurgency in northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram, extremists opposed to western-style education and secular governance in Nigeria, carried out a multi-day attack in the northeast of Nigeria, focusing on the town of Baga. According to Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official who spoke to the BBC, Baga, which once had a population of about 10,000 people, is now “virtually non-existent.”
The multi-day rampage focused on Baga and the surrounding towns and villages. The militants razed an estimated 16 towns around Baga, according to the BBC.
“These towns are just gone, burned down,” Borno State Senator Ahmed Zanna told NBC News. “The whole area is covered in bodies.”
The rampage has led to the deaths of an estimated 2,000 Nigerian civilians along with sending approximately 10,000 people fleeing for their lives into neighbouring Chad, according to the Associated Press.
Boko Haram’s rampage throughout the region is a direct blow to the prestige of the Nigerian military.
Baga, which Nigerian troops abandoned on Jan. 4 after a day of fighting, was set to host the Multi-National Jount Task Force (MNJTF), a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Chad, and Niger with the express purpose of defeating the Boko Haram insurgency.
At the time of the attack, only Nigerian troops were present.
Boko Haram’s assault in Baga has been comprised of two phases, according to Time. The offensive began on Jan. 3 in a push against the MNJTF base and lasted until Jan. 4. This assault was followed up by an assault on Baga itself and the surrounding towns from Jan. 6 until today.
The Nigerian military is currently engaged in a counter-offensive against Boko Haram, which is coming off its deadliest year yet.
In April of 2013, the group sparked an international outcry after abducting over 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok. The girls are still missing, and Boko Haram has perpetrated a series of large-scale attacks since then. Over 100 people were killed in simultaneous bomb attacks in the city of Jos this past May; just a few days later, the group killed dozens of farmers in their own fields in a remote northeastern corner of the country.
Overall, Boko Haram killed an estimated 11,000 people in 2014.
The insurgency comes during a time of political uncertainty for Nigeria, which has presidential elections scheduled for February 14, a contest held against the backdrop of an intensifying national security crisis.
The group may be stepping up attacks in order to derail the fragile country’s democratic process, Roddy Barclay, a senior Africa analyst at the London-based firm Control Risks, told Time. “Boko Haram will be a key player in the 2015 elections,” he said. “It will seek to disrupt the elections by staging targeted attacks and by seeking to incite broader religious violence.”