Gunmen have killed 19 security personnel, including 13 soldiers, in an assault in the northwest Nigerian state of Kebbi, a security source and residents said Wednesday.
The battle erupted late Tuesday in Kanya, a village in Danko-Wasagu district, just a day after dozens of members of a self-defence militia were killed in the same area. At least 57 vigilantes were killed in nearby Sakaba on Monday in an ambush by heavily armed criminal gangs known locally as bandits.
Hundreds of gunmen invaded Kanya, engaging a combined military and police detachment in a three-hour gun fight, the source and residents said. Eight other security personnel, including four soldiers, were hospitalized with wounds, he added. “It was an intense fight that lasted more than three hours. The terrorists had the upper hand because of their sheer number.” Military and police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident.
Northwest and central Nigeria have been terrorized for years by criminal gangs who raid and loot villages, steal cattle and carry out mass abductions of residents for ransom. But recently attacks have intensified even as the military attempts to drive bandits out of their camps. In Tuesday’s assault, local resident Musa Arzika, who gave the same toll, said the attackers came on “around 200 motorcycles riding three on each” and laid siege on the village.
“The bodies of 13 soldiers, five policemen and one vigilante killed in the fight were taken to Zuru this morning,” he said. “We believe they were the same bandits who killed the vigilantes,” he said. Arzika said the bandits followed a bush path to another village where they kidnapped a local chief before proceeding to a riverside village, where they parked their motorcycles.
“They crossed the river and encircled Kanya, attacking the security personnel from three directions,” he said. A community leader said the gang stormed the village around 1600 GMT and stayed till 1900 GMT after subduing the security personnel. “The bandits didn’t attack residents who remained indoors throughout the fight,” said the community leader who did not want to be identified for personal safety.
“When they returned to Gwazawa on the other side of the river they did stunts with their motorcycles in celebration before riding off,” he said. The criminals gangs operate camps in the vast forests straddling Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Nigeria’s military says it has been bombarding bandit camps and battling to drive them out of the forests, but the gangs often attack in one state before crossing back into forest hideouts.
Bandit violence in Nigeria’s northwest and central states is just one challenge facing security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist tensions in the southeast of the country.