Gunmen kill villagers, torch homes in volatile central Nigeria state

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  • Eighteen people in a mainly Christian village were killed when gunmen attacked. 
  • Plateau State has struggled for years with tit-for-tat violence between Muslim herders and Christian farmers. 
  • Authorities did not blame any group for the violence.

Gunmen attacked a mainly Christian village in a volatile Nigeria state, killing as many as 18 people and burning down two dozen homes, a community leader, a resident and local authorities said on Wednesday.

Plateau State has struggled for years with tit-for-tat violence between Muslim herders and Christian farmers though authorities often blame recent attacks on criminal gangs.

Attackers hit the Ancha community in Bassa local government area of Plateau late on Tuesday, residents and authorities said, sending villagers fleeing.

"The attackers came shooting sporadically with guns at night... They took long time doing what they did, up till the time when security arrived," Ancha resident Dickson Auta told AFP by telephone.

"Having heard gunshots some of us managed to run into the bush and that was how we escaped."

Local Irigwe community leader Davidson Malison and Auta said 18 people were killed in the attack, though authorities gave no official death toll.

"The attack which lasted for over two hours... led to the killing of 18 people with six others injured," Malison said in a statement.

More than 24 households were burned and vehicles, motorcycles and harvested food crops were destroyed, he said.

Malison blamed Muslim Fulani herders for the violence.

Plateau State Governor Simon Bako Lalong said the attack "left many dead and properties destroyed" but did not give a toll for the attack, calling it part of "unending cycle of violent attacks" in the area.

Nigeria's army said troops mobilised to the village, though attackers had fled by the time they arrived.

"Houses were destroyed and some villagers lost their lives," the army statement said.

Authorities did not blame any group for the violence.

Muhammad Nuru Abdullah, chairman of a local cattle herders association, condemned the attack on Ancha but dismissed accusations the Fulani community was responsible.

"It is worrisome to say that whenever the Irigwe People are attacked or killed they (are) quick to shift blame on us," he said. "We challenge both the Irigwe People and any other person to proof their assertions."

Jos, the capital of Plateau sits on the dividing line between Nigeria's mostly Muslim north and the country's mainly Christian south.

Local authorities have been working to maintain the peace, and often blame criminal bandit gangs for some of the recent violence.

In December gunmen attacked Pinau village in Plateau state during market day, killing at least eight people.

At least 23 Muslim travellers were killed in Plateau in August when their bus convoy was attacked outside the state capital Jos.

Police at the time blamed Irigwe youths for the assault, though community leaders rejected that accusation.

A week later, gunmen descended on a predominantly Christian village on the outskirts of the city, shooting 18 people dead.

More than 15 000 people fled their homes that month due to the violence, according to the UN's migration agency.


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