“Gunmen armed with rifles and machetes attacked a rural village Sunday in northern Nigeria, killing at least 17 people, including worshippers leaving a mosque after prayers before dawn” officials said.
The attack happened in Dogon Dawa, a village deep in the pasture lands of Kaduna state where police and security forces maintain only a light presence.
The number of dead could be higher as emergency responders acknowledged that estimates of those killed in the attacks varied wildly and few eyewitnesses could be directly reached after the attacks.
Police and soldiers also cut off access to the region Sunday, limiting the response of aid agencies.
A rescue official in the state who lives near the village told The Associated Press the attacks began in the early morning under the cover of darkness, with as many as 50 gunmen surrounding the village and its surrounding farmlands.
The majority of those killed appeared to be leaving the village’s main mosque after the early call to prayers, the official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being targeted by those who carried out the attack.
Kaduna state police commissioner Olufemi Adenaike later said 12 people were killed in the attack, though police in Nigeria routinely downplay casualties.
“We cannot ascertain the (total) number of people killed for now, and more over we cannot say what or who was responsible for the attack,” Adenaike said.
“We couldn’t get immediate information from the area because the (mobile phone) network there is very poor.”
While police routinely have many officers stationed throughout major cities in Nigeria, police presence in villages can sometimes be a single officer working out of someone’s home.
The reasons for the attack remained unclear Sunday.
The emergency official said locals already had blamed a gang of robbers who recently arrived from neighbouring Zamfara state and had begun attacking villages and robbing people along the road.
Dogon Dawa had formed a local vigilante committee to patrol their area and that group and the robbers had been killing each other over the course of the last weeks, the official said.
“This time around they decided to launch a reprisal attack,” the official said.
However, activist Shehu Sani, who leads the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress, said it appeared the attack was between Muslim farmers and Muslim nomadic cattlemen who graze in the area.
Tensions and violence spring up between the two groups over land rights, though not often with such an intensity.
“The spasm of violence and senseless bloodshed in the northern parts of Nigeria has reached an alarming and unacceptable level,” Sani said.