KANO, Nigeria: Gunmen on motorbikes in northwest Nigeria's Katsina state killed at least 69 people and torched several homes in attacks on four villages, a local lawmaker told AFP Thursday, amid rising communal tension in the region.
The state's police chief, Hurdi Mohammed, who gave a lower toll of 30 dead, told AFP the violence was perpetrated by ethnic Fulani herdsmen who have been blamed for scores of deadly raids.
"So far, 69 bodies have been recovered from the attacks carried out by a large group of gunmen riding on motorcycles," said Katsina lawmaker Abbas Abdullahi Michika of the violence which first broke out late Tuesday.
"The victims include men, women and children. Rescue teams are still combing nearby bushes in search for more bodies," he told AFP.
He specified that 47 people were killed in the village of Mararrabar Maigora while seven deaths were recorded in both Kura Mota and Unguwar Rimi.
Another eight people were killed in Maigora, according to Michika.
Fulani leaders have for years complained about the loss of grazing land which is crucial to their livelihood, with resentment between the herdsmen and their agrarian neighbours rising over the past decade.
Most of the Fulani-linked violence has been concentrated in the religiously divided centre of the country, where rivalries between mostly Muslim herdsmen and mostly Christian farmers have helped fuel the unrest.
While there is no religion element to the conflict in Katsina, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, tensions between the Fulani and ethnically Hausa farmers have worsened in recent months. Residents have blamed the Fulani for several violent robberies this year.
Three people were killed earlier this month in Katsina when suspected Fulani gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint.
The police chief insisted the attacks were not linked to Islamist group Boko Haram, whose insurgency has killed more than 500 people in the northeast already this year.
The Islamist group Ansaru, seen as an offshoot of Boko Haram, kidnapped French engineer Francis Collomp in Katsina in December 2012. Collomp escaped last year and Ansaru has not been linked to an attack in several months.
Cattle, livestock and other goods have been stolen following previous attacks blamed on the Fulani, but there were no reports of theft in the latest raid.
"The gunmen were just on a killing spree," Michika said. "They opened fire on the people and burnt their homes without taking anything from their victims."
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with roughly 170 million people and some 250 ethnic groups and has been plagued by various forms of sectarian conflict for decades.