ABUJA, Nigeria — The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed at least 2,053 civilians in the first six months of this year in an increasing number of attacks that may constitute crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Boko Haram carried out 95 attacks that included bombings on more than 70 towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria, the New York-based group said in a statement. The figures were based on analysis of media reports and field investigations, it said.
"Boko Haram is effectively waging war on the people of northeastern Nigeria at a staggering human cost," Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. "Atrocities committed as part of a widespread attack on civilians are crimes against humanity, for which those responsible need to be held to account."
Boko Haram has been fighting since 2009 to impose Islamic law on Africa's biggest oil producer. In April, it kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in the northeastern state of Borno. Boko Haram detonated at least three bombs this year in the capital, Abuja, killing more than 100 people, and claimed responsibility for a June explosion in Lagos, the country's commercial hub.
"There has been a dramatic increase during 2014 in the numbers of casualties from bomb blasts, including several apparent suicide bombings," Human Rights Watch said.
President Goodluck Jonathan imposed emergency rule last year in the three northeastern states where the group is most active.
"The pace of attacks has dramatically intensified in remote villages since May 2013, when the federal government imposed a state of emergency in the northern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe," Human Rights Watch said. The death toll in Borno state alone reached 1,446 people, it said.
Human Rights Watch did not give a comparative death toll for 2013. In May, Bath, Englad-based risk analysis company Maplecroft said the number of people who died in "terrorist attacks" in Nigeria almost doubled to 3,058 in the 12 months to May 19 this year, from the previous 12-month period.
Jonathan canceled what was to be his first-ever meeting with parents of girls kidnapped from Chibok and five young women who escaped from the militants, his spokesman, Doyin Okupe, said in an emailed statement.
Monday he held talks with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a Taliban gun attack two years ago to become a global advocate for girls' education.
Police arrested a man suspected to be a senior member of Boko Haram in Bauchi state on July 12, spokesman Frank Mba said Tuesday.