LAGOS: The Nigerian army said Sunday it plans to raid suspected militant hideouts in several central villages after attacks last weekend claimed by the Islamist Boko Haram sect that killed over 100 people.
"We will conduct operation sweep and search this week in some villages in Plateau state we suspect are hideouts of miscreants and assailants," army spokesman Captain Salihu Mustapha told AFP, adding that residents had been warned to leave to avoid getting caught up in any violence.
Boko Haram claimed attacks in central Plateau state last weekend that killed more than 100 people, but police insisted that Muslim herdsmen from the Fulani tribe were responsible.
At least 22 people, including two senior politicians, were killed last Sunday in an attack on a funeral for victims of violence on Saturday, when gunmen stormed mainly Christian villages and killed more than 80 people.
Troops from the military's Special Task Force have already been deployed to several villages in Plateau state, Mustapha said. "We are telling (residents) to evacuate the areas to avoid being caught in a crossfire when the operation begins."
Ethnic Fulani herdsmen are a majority Muslim group with long-standing land rights grievances against the state's mainly Christian leaders.
In March 2010 they launched a wave of attacks on Birom Christian villages, slaughtering more than 500 people, according to local officials.
Plateau state is in Nigeria's so-called "Middle Belt," where the mainly Christian south meets the majority Muslim north, and has been the site of sectarian violence in recent years.
Fulani pastoralists of Hausa-Muslim ethnicity are seen as "settlers" by the Christian ethnic groups that dominate power in Plateau state, even though the Fulani have been there for decades.
The state capital Jos and its environs have suffered a wave of sectarian and communal clashes in recent years that has left thousands of people dead.
The area has also been hit by gun and bomb attacks blamed on Boko Haram which have killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009 in Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer.
Boko Haram has targeted Jos in the past, but there is no apparent link between the Fulani and the radical Islamist sect.