Twelve militiamen fighting jihadists have been killed in clashes with criminal gangs in northwestern Nigeria, militia sources told AFP on Monday.
Northwest and central Nigeria have been plagued by gangs of criminals known who stage deadly raids on villages and kidnap residents for ransom.
Though driven by financial gain, there are concerns among officials and analysts about their growing ties with jihadists waging a 14-year insurgency in the northeast.
Militia members said they had redeployed from battling jihadists to help fight the gangs near Nigeria’s northwestern border with Niger.
They said they had killed scores of criminals, locally known as bandits, during fierce fighting in Sokoto state on Sunday.
AFP could not independently verify their tolls.
“We killed more than 50 of the bandits, but unfortunately we lost 12 men,” said one militia member involved in the clashes.
Militia sources said the bandits were loyal to notorious warlord Bello Turji.
“We lost 12 of our comrades in fighting with bandits outside Fakai village, Bello Turji’s stronghold near the border with Niger,” said northeastern anti-jihadist militia leader Babakura Kolo.
The fighting followed the capture of Turji’s father by the militia during a raid, he said.
Turji’s men “mobilised and launched a retaliatory attack” said Kolo, who was involved in the deployment of fighters to the northwest.
Formed in 2013, the militia were later organized and trained by the military and have been fighting jihadists alongside troops.
Militia members have been working with soldiers in areas of Sokoto state where Turji is in control, Kolo said.
Turji has assumed control of three districts where he imposes taxes on communities and conducts deadly raids against those who fail to pay.