A surge of violence over the past week in Nigeria has left more than 200 people dead in the oil-rich, conflict-prone nation that’s home to Africa’s biggest economy.
Armed bandits fleeing airstrikes by the Nigerian military have opened fire on villagers — often in attacks featuring gunmen on motorbikes — in the northwestern state of Zamfara, according to witnesses.
While interreligious clashes and an Islamic State extremist presence in northern Nigeria have made global headlines for years, the latest violence is reported to stem from a chaotic mix of gang activity and territorial disputes between farmers and herders in Zamfara.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed the violence on “bandits” and “mass murderers,” but also framed ongoing military operations in the area as part of his government’s internal battle to crush “terrorism.”
“The latest attacks on innocent people by escaping bandits in Zamfara is an act of desperation by mass murderers, who are now under relentless pressure from our military forces who are well equipped to effectively confront these enemies of humanity,” Mr. Buhari said Saturday in a statement posted online.
“In keeping with my commitment to tackle the monster of terrorism head-on, let me reassure these besieged communities and other Nigerians that this government will not abandon them,” the Nigerian president said. “We are not going to relent in our current military operations to get rid of these thugs who have been terrorizing innocent people.”
There has been no immediate comment from U.S. officials monitoring the developments in Nigeria, where a small contingent of American military forces have supported training operations for the Nigerian military in recent years, including on the counterterrorism front.
The BBC reported Sunday that at least 200 people in Zamfara had been buried following violence in the state during recent days. Survivors told the network that motorbike-riding gangsters attacked village after village, shooting indiscriminately.
The BBC described the gangs as sophisticated networks of criminals who operate across large swathes of territory, often stealing animals, kidnapping for ransom and killing those who confront them.