NEW DELHI: International rights bodies Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have analysed a series of satellite images showing towns attacked by Boko Haram in the days after it captured the Baga military base on January 3.

Conflicting reports have emerged on the numbers of those killed in the onslaught that has followed, with the Nigerian military -- that no longer controls the area -- pitting the numbers at a low 150. Survivors accounts and other sources however have claimed that at least 2000 people have been killed as the militants razed the town of Baga and nearby Doron Baga.

The satellite images seem to corroborate the latter figures. The images taken first on January 2 and then after the capture of the military base on January 7, show that the attacks left more than 3700 structures damaged or destroyed, including 620 structures in Baga and more than 311 in Doron Baga.

“These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days,” Daniel Eyre, an Amnesty researcher, said in a statement.

“Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.”

Further, wooden fishing boats which were visible along the Lake Chad shoreline in images taken on January 2, can no longer be seen in the later photos. This corroborates eye witness accounts that residents fled the attacks by boat.

“Up until now, the isolation of Baga combined with the fact that Boko Haram remains in control of the area has meant that it has been very difficult to verify what happened there," Eyre said. "Residents have not been able to return to bury the dead, let alone count their number. But through these satellite images combined with graphic testimonies a picture of what is likely to be Boko Haram’s deadliest attack ever is becoming clearer.”

An analysis by Human Rights Watch made a similar conclusion. A researcher for the grouo, Mausi Segun said that the images "provide direct evidence of extensive areas of fire-related damages to local buildings and trees, consistent with a systematic campaign of arson directed against the civilian population in the area."

Boko Haram’s attacks have been increasing in severity, with the group emerging as the biggest security risk in Nigeria. The group propelled to international attention after it kidnapped almost 300 schoolgirls in April last year -- most of whom are still being held.

The group’s aim is to overthrow the country’s government and seize power. As part of this agenda, the group has adopted a specific variant of Islam - one that is opposed to any political or social activity associated with western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing western clothes and receiving what is considered a western (non religious) education.

The origins of Boko Haram, the official name of which is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad", sheds light on the specific social-economic context that has determined developments. As parts of Nigeria fell under British control in 1903, locals came to view western education with suspicion, and this resistance continued as Nigeria gained independence, with many muslim families refusing to send their children to government run “western schools.” The problem was compounded by the lack of priority given to education by the state government.

Located in this context, in 2002, Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri with the intention of setting up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. Many families across Nigeria and the region enrolled their children in Yusuf’s school. The movement did not remain restricted to education, with the eventual aim of an Islamic state being conceived within the struggle for power that was rooted in an anti-western discourse. In 2009, the group carried out a series of attacks on official buildings in Maiduguri. The group was defeated and Yusuf was killed, but fighters regrouped and in 2010, attacked a prison in Bauchi state, setting free hundreds of the groups’ supporters.

Since then, the group’s attacks have increased in severity, with some of the worst attacks being the 2011 Christmas day bombings on the outskirts of Abuja and in Damaturu; bombing the police headquarters and the UN headquarters in Abuja in 2011; and an attack on a military barracks in Abuja in 2010.

The context is far more complicated than a mere religious rendering can do justice to. Nigerian American author and columnist offered a voice of reason when he tweeted: “I understand the impulse to "do something." But Boko Haram is irreducibly complex. Makes Kony look like child's play” and “The history of the Nigerian military "doing something" about Boko Haram has been one of mass murder of civilians.”

The threat posed by Boko Haram is not going to disappear by launching an offensive attack, which, at best will cause a temporary lull of activity till the fighters regroup and hit back even more violently. The solution to the threat is in reducing the region’s chronic poverty and building an education system which gains the support of local muslims - measures which are not being given priority to by the establishment and figure no where in the “do something” position adopted by the west.