Suspected Boko Haram gunmen on horseback have shot dead nearly 80 people in attacks on three villages in Nigeria’s restive northeast at the weekend, a vigilante and residents have said.
Vigilante Babakura Kolo said 68 people were killed in the attack on Baanu village in Borno state late on Friday while residents said another 11 people were shot dead in two other villages on Saturday and Sunday.
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“Reports reached us of an attack on Baanu village late on Friday where Boko Haram gunmen riding on horses opened fire on the village. Sixty-eight people were killed in the attack,” Kolo told the AFP news agency on Monday.
He said the gunmen stormed Baanu around 19:30 GMT, shooting sporadically.
A government official, who demanded anonymity, put the death toll in Baanu at 56.
Kolo also said four people were killed in another attack by Boko Haram in Karnuwa village on Saturday.
“They shot dead four people in the village, including the chief imam of the village, his son and two neighbours,” he said.
Local resident Saleh Musa told AFP of a third attack on Hambagda on Sunday where attackers had killed seven villagers and injured five others.
“The attackers arrived on horseback around 2:00 pm while people were praying in the mosque,” said Musa, who later fled to the nearby town of Askira Uba.
“They went straight to the mosque and opened fire on worshippers.
“They killed seven people, while five others were injured. I was late for the afternoon prayers and I was at home preparing to go to the mosque and join in the prayers when the attack happened.
“We returned after they had gone and found out they had killed 68 people in the village.
“Most of us left the village on Saturday for fear of a fresh attack,” he said.
Colonel Tukur Gusau, an army spokesman in Maiduguri, and Borno government spokesman Isa Umar Gusau said they could not immediately comment on the attacks.
Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in on May 29, vowing to crush the group.
The wave of violence since the inauguration has claimed more than 1,000 lives, dealing a blow to a four-country offensive launched in February that had chalked up a number of victories against the group.
Boko Haram have carried out deadly ambushes across Nigeria’s borders and in recent weeks suicide bombers, many of them women, have staged several attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.
The group has killed about 15,000 people and displaced 1.5 million since 2009.
An 8,700-strong Multi-National Joint Task Force, drawing in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, is expected to deploy against the group soon.