“They went door-to-door shooting villagers and in some cases slitting their throats with knives,” the police source said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
“They killed 21 residents. They also moved to the next village… where they shot dead two other people. So far 23 villagers were killed in the attack.”
The gruesome raids by a gang said to be made up of about 80 people on motorbikes occurred in the dead of night in the villages of Dan-Gulbi and Guru, both in Zamfara state.
They were believed to be in revenge for killings of some of the gang members by villagers and local vigilante groups who grew tired of repeated robberies, the source said. Similar attacks have occurred in the area in the past.
A large number of people were also wounded, including a policeman.
“Because of the remoteness of the area, police could not deploy in good time and the attackers fled before police teams could reach the area,” the source said. “It is clear that the bandits were on a revenge mission.”
Islamist group Boko Haram has been blamed for scores of bombings and shootings, mainly in Nigeria’s north, but there was so far no indication the extremists were involved in the Zamfara violence.
Deadly communal and ethnic conflicts often occur in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer with some 160 million people and 250 ethnic groups.
In October last year, armed bandits raided Lingyado village in Zamfara state, killing 19 people in reprisals over the killing of fellow gang members by local vigilantes with the aid of villagers.
In January, armed robbers killed 15 local traders returning from a market in neighbouring Katsina state and burnt their bodies along with the truck they were driving in an ambush near the town of Birnin-Magaji in Zamfara state.
Meanwhile in the country’s northeast, gunmen armed with explosives killed at least 34 people in May when they attacked a cattle market and burned it to the ground.
The attack in the city of Potiskum was said to be in reprisal for an incident earlier in the day, when a gang sought to rob the market but was fought off by traders who caught one of the attackers.