MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — A fresh load of battered corpses arrived, 29 of them in a routine delivery by the Nigerian military to the hospital morgue here. A dead man on the ground outside the hospital morgue in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Unexpectedly, three bodies started moving. “They were not properly shot,” recalled a security official here. “I had to call the J.T.F.” — the military’s joint task force — “and they gunned them down.” It was a rare oversight. Large numbers of bodies, sometimes more than 60 in a day, are being brought by the Nigerian military to the state hospital, according to government, health and security officials, hospital workers and human rights groups — the product of the military’s brutal war against radical Islamists rooted in this northern city. The corpses were those of young men arrested in neighborhood sweeps by the military and taken to a barracks nearby.
Accused, often on flimsy or no evidence, of being members or supporters of Boko Haram the Islamist militant group waging a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian state the detainees are beaten, starved, shot and even suffocated to death, say the officials, employees and witnesses. Then, soldiers bring the bodies to the hospital and dump them at the morgue, officials and workers say. The flood is so consistent that the small morgue at the edge of the hospital grounds often has no room, with corpses flung by the military in the sand around it. Residents say they sometimes have to flee the neighborhood because of the fierce smell of rotting flesh. From the outset of the battle between Boko Haram and the military, a dirty war on both sides that has cost nearly 4,000 lives since erupting in this city in 2009, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad, often indiscriminate roundups of suspects and sympathizers in residential areas.
The military’s harsh tactics, which it flatly denies, have reduced militant attacks in this insurgent stronghold, but at huge cost and with likely repercussions, officials and rights advocates contend. No one doubts that Boko Haram, which has claimed responsibility for assassinations and bombings that have killed officials and civilians alike, is thoroughly enmeshed in the local populace, making the job of extricating the group extremely difficult. But as with other abuses, the bodies piling up at the morgue — where it is often impossible to distinguish combatants from the innocent — have turned many residents against the military, driving some toward the insurgency, officials say. Even the state’s governor, who acknowledged that he must tread a careful line not to offend the Nigerian military, expressed disquiet at the tactics.
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