Attacks by armed gangs on motorcycles are blamed for the deaths of at least 32 people in rural northwestern Nigeria, residents told The Associated Press.
The gunmen attacked four villages in the Kajuru area of Kaduna state on Sunday, said Monday Solomon, a resident of the area, about 230 kilometers (143 miles) from Abuja. The attackers moved from village to village for hours before leaving, he said.
Poor telecommunications delayed residents from reporting the attacks, as is often the case in parts of Nigeria’s north.
News of the killings in Kaduna state came shortly after more than 30 people were killed in an attack on a Catholic church on Sunday in southwestern Ondo, a state previously known as one of Nigeria’s safest.
Nigeria’s National Security Council said Thursday that the attack in Ondo was carried out by extremist rebels under the Islamic State West Africa Province group, confirming alarms raised in the past by local authorities and security analysts that the militants who have been restricted to the northeast for many years are looking to expand their influence and reach to other parts of the country.
Following the recent attack in Kaduna state, at least 32 bodies have been recovered from the villages, according to the Adara Development Association. It said survivors continue to “comb surrounding bushes for more corpses.” Twenty-eight people have so far been buried, residents said.
In the Kajuru area, attackers arrived on more than 100 motorcycles, said resident Usman Danladi. Many villagers “took to their hills and ran into the bush [but] they [the attackers] followed them with motorcycles and killed many of them,” said Danladi.
More than 20 people were kidnapped and the abductors are demanding money for their release, he added.
Such attacks have become frequent in Nigeria’s troubled northwest. Thousands have been killed in the violence, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations. Residents are often abducted and kept in detention for weeks, usually in forest reserves, until ransoms are paid.
The gunmen in the latest violence were “armed Fulani militia,” said resident Danladi. “That is the language they were speaking. That was their outlook. They are not new to our environment because this is not the first time they were attacking.”
Herdsmen, farmers in conflict
The Fulani herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim, have been in conflict for decades against the settled farmers over access to land for grazing. The rivalry has become deadly in recent years as gangs of gunmen attack rural communities.
In one of the villages, residents were able to repel them at first before a helicopter arrived and “started gunning the youths from the air,” Awemi Dio Maisamari, the Adara association national president, said in a statement.
Neither the police nor Kaduna state officials have yet confirmed the attacks. The limited security presence in many remote communities in Nigeria makes it difficult for government forces to protect residents from the attacks or quickly arrest the perpetrators, analysts say.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused of not doing enough to end the country’s security woes, a key campaign promise the former military general made when he sought election in 2015. Buhari’s tenure as president ends in May next year after eight years in office.