Gunmen have killed at least 100 people in attacks on three villages in central Nigeria, an area where long-standing disputes over land, religion and ethnicity often erupt into violence, two local government officials have said.
Police confirmed on Sunday the raids by Fulani herdsman late on Friday on the villages of Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwan Gata and Chenshyi, in Kaduna state, but declined to give a death toll, the Reuters news agency said.
"Fulani gunmen came across from neighbouring Plateau state and just opened fire on the villagers at around 11pm," said Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura local government authority.
"We are still picking bodies out of the bush but so far there are more than 100 killed."
Andrew Kazah, another local councillor, said at least 96 had been killed, but that the toll was likely to go up, Reuters reported.
Chenshyi village was the worst affected with at least 50 people killed, Adamu Marshall, a spokesman for the Southern Kaduna Peoples' Union, a regional political and cultural body, told the AFP news agency.
Scores of residents were also injured when about 40 assailants, armed with guns and machetes, stormed the villages and attacked locals in their sleep and torched their homes, said Yakubu Bitiyong, a legislator at the Kaduna state parliament.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the past year in clashes pitting the cattle-herding and largely Muslim Fulani people against mostly Christian settled communities like the Berom in Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where its mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.
The unrest is not linked to the insurgency in the northeast by Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria.
However, analysts say there is a risk the fighters will try to stoke central Nigeria's conflict.
Most of Boko Haram's attacks are contained further north, but it did claim a 2011 Christmas Day bomb attack at a church in Jos.
Human Rights Watch in December said sectarian clashes in the central region had killed 3,000 people since 2010, adding that authorities had largely ignored the violence, an accusation they denied.
Though it sometimes takes on a sectarian character, the violence is fundamentally about decades-old land disputes between semi-nomadic, cattle-keeping communities such as the Fulani and settled farming peoples such as the Berom, both often armed with automatic weapons.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation with almost 170 million people, split roughly equally between Christians and
Muslims and around 250 different ethnic groups who mostly live peacefully side-by-side.