Gunmen kill 22 people in 2 attacks in Nigeria’s middle belt

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen have killed at least 22 people in Nigeria’s central Niger state in two attacks this week, local officials said Friday.

The killings of civilians and local defense force members were blamed on armed bandits who have been staging an increasing number of attacks in Nigeria’s middle belt.

“The Nigerian authorities have left rural communities at the mercy of rampaging gunmen who have killed at least 1,126 people in the north of the country in several different states since January, Amnesty International said in a statement last month.

In the latest attack, the gunmen had been planning to attack and kidnap residents in Dukku in the Rijau local government area on Thursday, but their attempts were thwarted by local defense force members, according to Kabiru Maikundi, a retired army colonel who coordinates security in Niger state.

The clashes led to the deaths of some bandits and at least 17 local defense fighters, said local council chairman Baba Bello. He did not specify the number of bandits killed.

Also this week, armed men shot and killed five people, including a woman and policeman, during a failed bank heist in the same state, said local council chairman Ismaila Modibo. Eight others were wounded, he said.

Niger state over the past few years has become a hotbed of violence, with armed criminals forcing villagers to displacement camps in the state capital, Minna.

In mid-August, a gang of motorcycle-riding bandits attacked a military location and killed three soldiers in a fierce fight, according to the Nigerian army.

On Aug. 14, bandits also attacked Ukuru, a herders’ village in Niger state, killing at least 14 people and wounding five, according to Niger state police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun.

The assailants stole a large number of cows after the attack.

In neighboring Benue state, unknown gunmen in early August attacked Edikwu, an agrarian community in Apa local government area, killing 13 people.

Catherine Anene, a police spokesperson in Benue state, said police have not been able to unravel what provoked the attack in a community that recently settled its age-long conflict over chieftaincy of the area. Police said the identities of the 20 or so armed men were unknown.

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