Gunmen in Nigeria killed 19 security personnel, including 13 soldiers, in an attack in the northwestern state kebaba security source and residents said Wednesday.
The fighting broke out late Tuesday in Kanya, a village in Danko-Wasagu district, just a day after dozens of members of a self-defense militia were killed in the same area.
At least 57 vigilantes were killed in nearby Sakaba Monday in an ambush by heavily armed criminal gangs known locally as bandits.
Hundreds of gunmen raided Kanya, involving a combined army and police detachment in a three-hour firefight, the source and residents said.
“The death toll stands at 19. They include 13 soldiers, five police officers and a vigilante,” a member of security personnel, who did not want to be identified, told AFP.
Eight other security personnel, including four soldiers, were hospitalized with injuries, he added.
“It was an intense fight that lasted more than three hours. The terrorists prevailed because of their sheer numbers.”
Military and police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident.
Northwestern and central Nigeria has been terrorized for years by criminal gangs that loot and loot villages, steal livestock and carry out mass kidnappings of residents for ransom.
But lately, the attacks have intensified, even as the military tries to drive bandits from their camps.
– Motorcycle Gangsters –
In Tuesday’s attack, local resident Musa Arzika, who demanded the same toll, said the attackers arrived on “about 200 motorcycles with three on each” and laid siege to the village.
“The bodies of 13 soldiers, five police officers and a vigilante who died in the battle were brought to Zuru this morning,” he said.
“We think it was the same bandits who killed the vigilantes,” he said.
Arzika said the bandits followed a forest trail to another village where they kidnapped a local chieftain before continuing to a riverside village where they parked their motorcycles.
“They crossed the river and surrounded Kanya, attacking security personnel from three directions,” he said.
A community leader said the gang stormed the village around 1600 GMT and stayed until 1900 GMT after subduing the security personnel.
“The bandits did not attack residents who stayed inside during the fight,” said the community leader, who did not wish to be identified for his personal safety.
“When they returned to Gwazawa on the other side of the river, they did stunts with their motorcycles to celebrate before driving off,” he said.
The criminal gangs operate camps in the vast forests between the states of Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger.
The Nigerian military says it has bombed and fought bandit camps to drive them out of the forests, but the gangs often attack in one state before returning to shelters in the forest.
Bandit violence in Nigeria’s northwestern and central states is just one challenge facing security forces, who are also battling a 12-year-old jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist tensions in the southeast.