Gunmen in Nigeria killed at least 200 people in several raids this week in northwestern Zamfara state, a government spokeswoman told AFP on Sunday.
Clashes between pastoralists and farmers over access to land plagued northwest and central Nigeria for years, with some groups turning into criminal gangs known as bandits who kill, loot and kidnap.
“It is horrible and tragic. More than 200 people have been buried (…) because of the invasion of bandits,” said a spokeswoman for Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs.
“We are also concerned about the displaced people who are fleeing their communities by the hundreds,” added the minister in a statement released on Saturday evening and confirmed by her spokesperson on Sunday.
“More than 10,000 victims were also left homeless after their homes were razed by the bandits while dozens remain missing.”
On Saturday, four residents told AFP that armed men ransacked the neighborhoods of Anka and Bukkuyum for two days, killing at least 140 people.
Shooting at “anyone on sight” Babandi Hamidu, a resident of Kurfa Danya village, said the militants were shooting “at anyone on sight”.
Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle played down the death toll, saying only 58 people were killed.
“The emir of Anka gave a list of 22 dead while the Emir of Bukkuyum gave a list of 36 victims,” a spokesman for the governor, Zailani Bappa, said in a statement on Saturday evening.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attacks, describing them as “an act of desperation by mass murderers”.
The Nigerian government this week officially branded the bandits terrorists, in an effort to impose tougher penalties on convicted gunmen, their informants and supporters.
Military and police operations are currently underway in the northwest.
The Nigerian armed forces said they had killed 537 “armed bandits and other criminal elements” in the region and arrested 374 more since May last year, while 452 “kidnapped civilians were rescued”.
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