At least 17 people were shot dead in the latest attack on villages in northern Nigeria’s Zamfara state over the weekend, according to witnesses and police.
Kasimu Bello, resident of Magami village in the Maradun district, told AFP news agency on Monday that unidentified gunmen entered his village on several motorcycles on Saturday, shooting people indiscriminately as they tried to flee.
“After the attack, we collected 17… bodies, which we buried,” he said.
Another resident, Umaru Bawa, confirmed the attack, saying: “The bandits pursued people like chickens and shot them dead as they ran into the bush”.
Mohammed Shehu, state police spokesman, said his operatives would arrest and “bring to justice the perpetrators of this dastardly act”.
The assault came just days after 25 people were killed on Wednesday in similar raids on two villages in Birnin Magaji district.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the latest attacks in a statement, saying “these horrendous acts of violence are crimes against humanity”.
“This violence must stop,” he said. “To this end, a major operation by the Nigerian Armed Forces, Police, Department of State Services and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, is being considered to restore peace and stability in the region.”
Farming and herding communities in Zamfara have for years been wracked by cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom, prompting villagers to form vigilante gangs as a protection force.
However, the villagers too are accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings, leading to tit-for-tat violence.
In April, troops were deployed to Zamfara to fight the gangs and police banned the civilian militia in an attempt to curb the cycle of reprisals.
Last month, the police claimed to have killed 104 outlaws in Birnin Magaji district, in a clash in which 16 policemen were killed.
Early this month, an influential traditional ruler in the state called for civilian militia members to be given assault rifles to defend themselves.
The continued raids by cattle thieves in Zamfara and the resource conflict between farmers and herders in central Nigeria have added to Nigeria’s security challenges as the military battles the Boko Haram armed group in the northeast.
Late on Friday, troops fought off the group’s attempt to overrun a base in Damasak on the border with Niger after an hours-long fight in which one civilian was killed.
On Saturday, troops foiled attempts to seize two bases in Logomani near the border with Cameroon and the town of Gajiram.
Several Boko Haram fighters were killed and their vehicles destroyed, sources said on condition of anonymity.