Gunmen have killed 34 people in Nigeria's northern Zamfara State, where criminal gangs have been terrorizing remote villages, police said Sunday.
Armed bandits on motorcycles stormed neighboring Tungar Kafau and Gidan Wawa villages in Shinkafi district late Friday and shot dead 34 people, state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement.
"Normalcy has been restored in Tungar Kafau and Gidan Wawa... following [the] attack by armed bandits... where 34 people were killed," Shehu said.
He said the victims of the attacks were buried on Saturday, adding that police were on the trail of the assailants.
Local residents put the death toll higher, at 35.
The bandits were said to have opened fire on farmers on their fields outside the villages and also pursued those who fled.
"The bandits killed 35 people in the attacks," said Lawwali Madattai, a resident.
"We heard gunshots and saw people running for shelter, chased by men on motorbikes," said Shehu Shinkafi.
"We immediately took cover in a house nearby, and after the bandits were done with their killing spree, they moved to a nearby village," he said, adding that he counted 12 bodies in his village alone.
The gang left comfortably as there were no security agents in the area, and it was only hours after the massacre that police arrived, Shinkafi and two other witnesses said.
Hundreds of people have died in the northwestern region this year, adding to security problems in a country already struggling with extremist insurgencies in the northeast and a brutal conflict between farmers and herders in central states.
Rural communities in Zamfara State have for years been terrorized by criminal gangs, who raid villages, stealing cattle, kidnapping for ransom, and burning homes after looting food supplies.
The bandits are known to hide in camps in Rugu Forest, which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, and Niger states, from where they launch attacks on communities in the area.
Last week, at least 40 people were killed and dozens injured in raids in eight remote villages in Niger State.