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Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria's troubled north

By Louise DEWAST
Nigeria The criminal gangs have abducted hundreds of schoolchildren since December.  By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP/File)
OCT 18, 2021 LISTEN
The criminal gangs have abducted hundreds of schoolchildren since December. By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP/File)

Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria's Sokoto's state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday.

Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages, but attacks have become even more violent in recent months.

"We're not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something," Sokoto's government spokesman Muhammad Bello said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred on Sunday evening in Goronyo district.

"It was a market day and there were many traders," Bello told AFP by phone.

Police spokesman Sanusi Abubakar also confirmed that bandits attacked Goronyo late on Sunday.

"Our sercurity operatives are there to conduct investigations," Abubakar added, without giving details.

Phone networks in the area have been suspended for weeks to disrupt the gangs' operations, making information-gathering tricky.

A gang raided another village market on October 8, in Sabon Birni district near the border with Niger, killing 19 people.

Since last month, Nigerian troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighbouring Zamfara state.

Telecom services were also shut down in Zamfara, and parts of Kaduna and Katsina states.

Officials in Sokoto are worried that bandits are relocating to the state as a result of operations in Zamfara.

"We're faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes," wrote Bello, on behalf of the state governor.

Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, he said, had requested "the presence of more forces in the state and the deployment of more resources".

Last month 17 Nigerian security personnel were killed when gunmen attacked their base in Sabon Birni, an assault the military blamed on Islamic State-aligned jihadists.

Bandits have no known ideological agenda, but concerns have grown of jihadist inroads in the region.

Violence has spiralled in recent months across the northwest, forcing thousands of already vulnerable people to flee their homes in a situation that aid agencies fear risks becoming a humanitarian crisis.

Since January 2020, about 50,000 people fled from their homes in the northwest alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.

And more than 80,000 additional people have fled to neighbouring Niger over the past two years.

Increasingly, bandits have turned to mass kidnapping and have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren since December. Most have been freed or released after ransom but dozens are still being held.

The violence is just one challenge facing Nigeria's security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed more than 40,000 people.

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