At least 69 people have been killed in an attack on a herding village in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, security sources and residents said.
Fighters drove into remote Felo village in Gubio district on Tuesday afternoon, shooting fleeing residents, running them over with their vehicles and razing the village.
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“They actually killed 69 persons. More bodies were discovered scattered on the open expanse,” a senior military officer said.
A community leader who asked not to be named said the attackers had mown down the 69 “men, and children” as they watched over their cattle at a watering hole outside the village.
“Our people were caught off guard by the gunmen who surrounded them,” the leader said.
“It is an open field with nowhere to hide. They couldn’t escape, they couldn’t outrun the vehicles.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack is believed to be a reprisal for the killing of fighters by local vigilantes protecting the villagers’ herd from theft.
“It’s an unfortunate day, for us to witness this,” a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) member, Kachallah Bumu told AFP.
While he said the residents were armed, and had repelled previous attacks, this one caught them off guard.
The fighters had been stealing livestock from the village, prompting residents to form a militia force to end the theft, said another militiaman, ibrahim liman.
The vigilantes had been “hunting for the insurgents” in the bushes, killing some of them in gunfights, Liman said.
Gubio, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the regional capital Maiduguri, has been repeatedly targeted by armed groups.
The incessant attacks prompted the authorities to send more than 100 vigilantes and local hunters to protect the town and nearby areas against incursions from armed groups, including Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which broke away from the Boko Haram armed group in 2016.
It has intensified attacks against the military in the last two years, repeatedly carrying out deadly attacks against soldiers. However, ISWAP’s involvement in the latest attack has yet to be confirmed.
In recent months, there has been an increase in attacks on civilians blamed on the group.
The decade-long conflict has killed 36,000 people and displaced approximately two million from their homes in the country northeast.
The violence has spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the rebels.