LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen attacked a rural village in northern Nigeria, killing 16 worshippers at a mosque and kidnapping others, said a local official.
The assault on Ba’are village in the Mashegu area of Niger state lasted for hours on Thursday, local government chairman Alhassan Isah Mazakuka said.
Dozens of the assailants arrived on motorcycles and rampaged through the village, killing people praying at the mosque and looting, he said.
“Those people (the gunmen) are dangerous,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Friday. “They killed 16 and kidnapped many of our people. We don’t even know the number they kidnapped because they are uncountable.”
Nigerian police confirmed the incident but said only nine residents were killed. The police have in the past been accused of downplaying casualty figures in such attacks.
The attack is the latest in the escalating violence in northwestern and northcentral Nigeria where armed groups have been targeting remote communities, killing and abducting residents for ransoms.
Earlier this week it was confirmed that 23 travelers were slain in a different part of the West African country’s troubled northern region.
The large bands of attackers mostly consist of young men from the Fulani ethnic group, who had traditionally worked as nomadic cattle herders and are caught up in a decades-long conflict with Hausa farming communities over access to water and grazing land.
The gunmen appear to be increasingly organized and well-armed, but they have not publicly declared any political aims or motives. So far the lawless groups — which a Nigerian governor recently said numbered more than 150 — do not have names or known leaders, but they were recently declared terrorist organizations by a court.
Nigeria’s security forces are already overstretched as they have been fighting Islamic extremists in the northeast for more than a decade. In many remote communities in northern Nigeria, the armed groups outnumber and outgun the security forces.
When troops arrive to quell their attacks, the bandits retreat into surrounding forest areas. But after the soldiers depart, the violent attacks resume. Vulnerable rural communities say they need more protection.
“We are suffering with the bandits (here),” local government chairman Mazakuka said. “All we need is prayers now (as) we have been crying for government support. The government has been trying their best but we still need support.”