Gunmen from gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers have opened fire on a market in northwest Nigeria, killing at least 19 people, officials and local residents said Sunday.
Northwest and central Nigeria are plagued by criminal gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers for ransom called bandits, who raid villages, killing and abducting residents as well as looting and burning homes.
The gangs have been targeting schools where they abduct students.
Officials and local residents said the gunmen Friday raided a market in Unguwan Lalle village in Sabon Birni district of Sokoto state, near the border with Niger.
“They attacked the market in the afternoon, killing 19 people,” said Aminu Al-Mustapha Gobir, a local lawmaker representing the district in the Sokoto parliament.
Several people injured in the attack were taken to a hospital in Sabon Birni town, said Gobir, who attended the funeral of two of the victims in the state capital Sokoto.
One trader who escaped the attack, Abubakar Shehu, said around 20 people were killed and many others badly injured.
“They came around around 3:00 pm after everyone had returned from Friday prayers,” he said.
He said the attack could be a reprisal for the killing of 11 bandits by local vigilantes fighting the gangs at a market in nearby Mamande village on Thursday.
News of the killings was slow to emerge due to the shutdown of telecommunication services in the area.
For several weeks troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighbouring Zamfara state where authorities have shut down telecom services to disrupt communication between the gangs.
Bandits fleeing the military operation in Zamfara have set up camps in Sabon Birni district from where they raid villages.
The influx of bandits from neighbouring Zamfara state prompted authorities in Sokoto to suspend weekly markets and shut down telecom towers in areas on the border with Zamfara, including Sabon Birni.
Sokoto state internal security commissioner Garba Moyi confirmed Friday s attack, blaming non-observance of a government ban on weekly markets in the area.
“We have observed non-compliance with the suspension of markets in areas prone to bandits attacks including Sabon Birni,” Moyi said.