Gunmen have killed 34 people in northwest Nigeria’s Kaduna State, including two soldiers, in the latest attack blamed on heavily-armed criminal gangs, local authorities said on Tuesday.
More than 200 homes were also destroyed in Sunday’s attack on four villages in the Kaura local government district, Kaduna State security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said in a statement.
“Security agencies have reported to the Kaduna State Government that after search operations and detailed checks, 34 people have been confirmed dead following Sunday’s attack in Kaura local government area,” he said.
“Two military personnel were among the 34 killed.”
Northwest and central Nigeria have long been terrorized by criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, who raid villages, conduct mass kidnappings for ransom and steal cattle, but attacks and abductions have intensified.
Sunday’s attack came on the same day as another raid that killed 16 people in a remote village in northwestern Zamfara State.
A week earlier, gunmen killed 11 security personnel, including seven policemen and four vigilantes, in attacks in central and northwestern Nigeria.
The gangs, who were officially declared terrorists by the government in January, operate from camps hidden in a vast forest across Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, and Niger states.
Bandit violence in Nigeria’s northwest is just one challenge facing security forces, who are also battling against a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist tensions in the southeast of Africa’s most populous nation.
Earlier this month, gunmen killed at least 57 members of a local self-defense vigilante group in clashes in northwestern Kebbi State, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to condemn their “brutal murder.”
Local residents often form informal vigilante units, known as Yansakai, to protect villages from bandit raids, though some states banned them after they were accused of extrajudicial killings. But they are often involved in tit-for-tat clashes with bandits.
Security experts have warned the gangs, who are driven by financial motives, are increasingly forging alliances with jihadists from the northeast of Nigeria.
Security forces say they have been bombarding and raiding the forest hideouts and authorities last year also cut telecommunications in some northwest states in an attempt to disrupt bandit communications.
Criminal gangs in Nigeria’s northwest made international headlines last year when they raided a number of schools and kidnapped students in a bid to squeeze more ransom out of communities.
Nigeria’s bandit violence has its origins in the clashes over land and resources between farmers and nomadic cattle herders in the northwest where tit-for-tat attacks have spiraled into wider criminal activity.