Gunmen killed 26 people in seven villages in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state, police said on Tuesday, February 5, in the latest violence to hit the troubled region.
The attacks happened late on Monday in six neighboring villages – Wonaka, Ajja, Mada, Ruwan Baure, Doka, Takoka, and Tudun Maijatau – in the Mada area, while in a separate incident, armed bandits killed 11 people and torched homes in Batauna village, in Bukkuyum district further west.
Details about the attack on Batauna were sketchy due to distance, inaccessible terrain, and a lack of telecommunications, Zamfara state police spokesperson Mohammed Shehu said.
“The Zamfara state police command wishes to confirm the killing of 15 persons, including a female, following attacks on the six villages” in Mada, he stated.
“In another development … armed bandits stormed Batauna village and killed 11 persons and set several houses ablaze.”
Seven people were kidnapped during the attacks on the six villages but were later released, Shehu said.
The spokesperson added that the Mada attacks were “presumably” reprisals for the killing last week of seven nomadic herders in the area by vigilantes who burnt the men together with their cattle.
But residents of the six villages disputed the police claim, insisting the attack was carried out by cattle-rustling and kidnapping gangs which operate in the area.
“The attackers were no doubt bandits who have been stealing our herds and kidnapping our people for ransom,” a local chief in the area told AFP on condition of anonymity.
On January 29, the army said that over the previous week, troops in northwest Nigeria had killed 21 ‘bandits,’ detained 17 others and freed 89 people who had been kidnapped.
A total of 55 of those kidnapped were held captive in Bukkuyum local government area that was targeted in the Monday attack.
Between January 22 and 29, 11 civilians and a vigilante were killed by bandits, the army said.
What the army terms ‘clearance operations’ commenced in Zamfara and Katsina states in recent weeks as part of Operation Sharan Daji, which was established in 2016 to fight against cattle rustling and banditry in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi states.. In its previous update the army said two Nigerian soldiers and two ‘members of the vigilante’ were killed while 58 ‘bandits’ were “neutralized” as troops destroyed 18 camps and freed 75 people who had been kidnapped.
For years, farming and cattle herding communities in Zamfara have been targeted by gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows and abduct locals for ransom.
In the last two years, kidnapping for ransom has reached unprecedented levels in the region, where entire villages have been deserted for fear of raids and kidnapping by criminal gangs.
Those abducted are often released within days if the ransom is paid but residents say they can be killed if no money is forthcoming, and their bodies dumped in the bush.
The region has been hit by violent crime over the past year, with Amnesty International warning last July that people living in the impoverished state were “at the mercy” of armed bandits who take hostages and raid villages.
As a hideout, the gangs use the Ruggu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
The attacks have prompted villagers to form militia groups for protection but they, too, have been accused of taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected bandits.
Those killings attract reprisals from motorcycle-riding criminal gangs, who carry out indiscriminate killings and arson in retaliation.
With reporting from AFP