KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Dozens of gunmen on motorbikes have killed more than 100 villagers in an ongoing conflict over land in northern Nigeria, survivors said Thursday.
The attacks, which began Tuesday night, left scores of people fleeing on foot from the four targeted villages about 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Katsina city.
People were still burying victims at Marabar Kindo village when the attackers returned Thursday afternoon and gunned down another seven villagers, resident Adamu Inuwa said. They also set fire to thatch-roofed huts, Inuwa said.
Kabiru Ismail of Maigora village said the first raid came late Tuesday and residents were continuing to recover bodies of people who had fled into the bush with the gunmen in pursuit.
Reached by telephone Thursday morning, Ismail said he had helped bury more than 40 people. By late afternoon, he said he had counted 103 bodies in three of the four villages. Five vehicles also were torched, he said.
The chief imam of Maigora said two policemen responding to calls for help were among the dead. He and Ismail also said two men in military uniform were among the attackers.
Villagers complained that no soldiers had come to the scene by Thursday morning.
Superintendent Aminu Sadiq, police spokesman for Katsina state, said he had heard of only five deaths by Thursday afternoon. Nigerian officials regularly downplay casualty figures.
For months, the area has been terrorized by raids blamed on semi-nomadic Fulani herders attacking Hausa farmers. Both are Muslim. Fulani in the region have long complained that farmers are taking over grazing lands crucial to their survival.
Most Fulani-related violence in Nigeria is concentrated around central Plateau state, where Muslim herders are pitted against Christian farmers. Thousands have been killed in recent years.
Such conflicts – a mix of tribal and religious animosity aggravated by growing rivalries over land and water resources – are unrelated to an Islamic uprising concentrated mainly in the northeast of Nigeria in which militants also have killed thousands of civilians.
Authorities appear unable to end the carnage or resolve any of the conflicts.
Human Rights Watch warned in a December report the insurgency could spread with extremists invoking “the lack of justice for attacks on Muslims” in Plateau and Kaduna states, where it reported entire villages have been “ethnically cleansed” of Fulani Muslims.
The New York-based advocacy group blamed the government for failing to prosecute known perpetrators, leaving people to resort to revenge attacks.
On Thursday, the visiting U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said she encourages the government to investigate and prosecute human rights violations including those committed by Islamic militants and by security forces as well as perpetrators of ethno-religious violence.
Villagers attacked this week noted that in past raids in Katsina state the herders stole their belongings and especially cattle and sheep.
“This time they just killed people,” Ismail said. “It’s as if their mission is to wipe out entire villages.”
Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos.