Kaduna — Gunmen believed to be armed robbers attacked a village in Birnin Gwari local government area of Kaduna State early morning yesterday, shooting dead the traditional ruler and 22 other people.
The attack happened at Dogon Dawa village, about 90 kilometres from Zaria, in what was apparently a rescue mission to free robbers captured by local vigilante days earlier.
Residents said Dogon Dawa had suffered robbery incidents recently, and so a vigilante group from the village went to neighbouring Kuyallo where they arrested four suspects believed to be operating in the area.
This, locals said, provoked colleagues of the detained suspects to attack Dogon Dawa yesterday to free the captured four.
The attackers killed village head Makama Ahmad Aliyu, in whose home the captured robbers were detained, as well as one of his sons and some neighbours.
The robbers then freed two of their colleagues but shot dead the other two because they broke their legs in the process of unshackling them, a son of the late village head told Daily Trust. Witnesses said as the assailants headed out of the village after the rescue, they ran into worshippers coming out of the mosque after the dawn prayers, and opened fire killing nine people.
The village head's wife, who was injured in the attack, passed away late yesterday at a hospital.
"We are suspecting that the attackers are those that were chased from Zamfara who moved to our local government to unleash havoc on our people," said Dahiru Adamu Kuyallo, interim chairman of Birnin Gwarni local government area.
"It is true that they have killed residents of Dogon Dawa, including the village head of Dogon Dawa, his son and neighbours. Six people are also receiving treatment at hospital, while the armed men have killed two of their colleagues that they came to rescue," he added while speaking to Daily Trust when he visited Dogon Dawa to assess the level of damage.
"This is coming at a time when we have set up a joint committee with Zamfara State government in order to unravel those that are behind these recurrent attacks."
When Daily Trust's reporter visited Dogon Dawa at about noon yesterday, residents were seen grieving soon after the funeral rites of those killed in the attack.
Blood stains were seen in the vicinity of the mosque.
Abdulrahman Ahmad, son of the deceased village head said the gunmen stormed the village in the early morning hours.
"What actually happened was that the vigilante group of Dogon Dawa went to Kuyallo to arrest four armed robbery suspects that have been terrorising our village. It was as a result of that arrest that the gunmen came to our village to rescue their arrested colleagues," he said.
"My father, Makama Ahmad Aliyu, was killed when he went out to buy mosquito coil. He saw a group of people at a junction that commercial motorcyclists used as station.
"My father became suspicious because it is not normal to see Okada riders at that time of the night. He therefore flashed them with his torch light. The gunmen opened fire but my father was lucky to escape. He moved into the village centre and the gunmen followed him.
"As their guns couldn't bring my father down, the gunmen overpowered him and used heavy stones to break his head into pieces. My father doubles as the head of the vigilante group, as such the four robbery suspects we arrested from Kuyallo were tied up in our house."
Having killed the village head, the gunmen moved to his house to rescue their arrested colleagues, Ahmad added.
"Following that attempt of the gunmen, some of us including one of my brothers, Bashir Ahmad, who was killed while attempting to stop the gunmen, came out to defend our house.
"That resulted in the murder of 15 people in our house and the neighbourhood. After they have unleashed their terror on our house, on their way out of the village, they killed nine people who were emerging from a mosque after the Subh (morning) prayers."
Ahmad said the villagers were suspecting a police officer of complicity in the incident.
"We are suspecting that (a police officer) might have accompanied the gunmen because I heard his voice. Another reason that makes us to suspect him was that when our men went to arrest the four suspected armed robbers, (he) told them that they would see the consequences of their action," Ahmad said.
Ahmad said the gunmen succeeded in rescuing two out of their four colleagues who were arrested by the Dogon Dawa vigilante.
"They have succeeded in moving away with two of their colleagues that our men arrested. They killed the remaining two as they badly injured their legs when they attempted to untie the chain we chained them in. I heard the gunmen telling them that 'we are killing you because you cannot move,'" Ahmad said.
Our correspondents also interviewed the elder brother of the deceased village head, Abdulkareem Aliyu, Ashiru Mai Anguwa, ward head of Danku in Dogon Dawa as well as many other residents. Those interviewed gave the names of some of the deceased including Alhaji Yunusa Mai Mai, Isa Rafin Turawa, Hassan Saulawa, Sa'idu Rafin Gwada and Garba Ado Unguwa Danku.
Yesterday, a team of police officers, including the state command's public relations officer DSP Aminu Lawal and Area Commander in charge of Zaria Zone, Sani Maigana, visited the village for assessment.
Kaduna State Police Commissioner Olufemi Adenaike last night confirmed the incident and number of casualties. He said at a news conference that investigations have begun.
Earlier in the afternoon, the commissioner was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying: "We are suspecting a reprisal attack by a gang of armed robbers who lost some of their members after a recent raid on their hideout by the combined effort of the police, villagers and some vigilance group."