Twelve people died when gunmen opened fire on villagers in troubled northeast Nigeria, police said.
The attackers, dressed as local vigilantes and carrying heavy weapons, invaded a herding village in Bali district in Taraba state, gathering residents in the open before shooting them, state police spokesman Usman Abdullahi said late Monday.
Taraba is one of several northern states struggling with criminal gangs known locally as bandits, who raid villages, looting and killing residents or kidnapping them for ransom.
Some communities form vigilante militias for protection, but they are often accused of abuses and extrajudicial killings in revenge attacks.
“We recovered 12 bodies,” Abdullahi said of the attack, which happened on Sunday. Eight other residents are still missing and soldiers, policemen, and local hunters are combing for them in the surrounding areas, he said.
“The attackers posed as vigilantes fighting criminal gangs and told the villagers that they were at the village to arrest some suspects,” he said.
The assailants fled with 130 cattle, several motorcycles, and food supplies, Abdullahi said.
Police deployed in the area arrested four of the attackers dressed in vigilante uniforms, riding on motorcycles stolen from the village and carrying looted food, he said.
“The suspects are helping with (the) investigation, we want to establish if the attackers are indeed vigilantes or just criminals using the vigilante uniforms as a cover.”
Nigeria’s bandit violence has its roots in clashes between nomadic herders and farming communities over access to land and water resources.
The cycle of violence has spiraled with the formation of heavily armed criminal gangs who are challenging security forces in northern parts of the country.
Taraba state has also seen a surge in jihadist attacks recently, with violence targeting bars and security forces.
Nigeria’s armed forces are battling a 13-year jihadist insurgency centered in northeast Borno state, which has left 40,000 people dead and displaced more than two million more.