At least 45 people were killed in a suspected Boko Haram attack in northeast Nigeria, officials and witnesses said on Thursday, in the latest violence to hit the region.
The attack happened in the village of Azaya Kura in the Mafa area of Borno state on Wednesday, the caretaker chairman of Mafa local government area, Shettima Lawan, said, calling it "wicked and despicable."
Village chief Mallam Bulama said the survivors counted 45 bodies after the attack, but other residents said more might have died after they fled into the bush.
With a name that loosely translates to “Western education in forbidden,” Boko Haram is seeking to carve out a separate state in Nigeria’s north to be governed in accordance to its own extreme interpretation of sharia law.
The group has been responsible for a brutal wave of violence in the country, most of it directed against civilians. Members of Boko Haram have also frequently targeted educational establishments before, abducting and killing hundreds of students.
On Oct. 26 in Mafa, suspected Boko Haram fighters abducted about 30 boys and girls, some of them as young as 11 and 13, while locals complained of almost daily raids that had forced many to flee.
Some 29 people were killed in the region in March this year after flyers were sent warning of an impending attack — a tactic used elsewhere by Boko Haram in their quest for an independent state.
In the latest attack, heavily armed militants arrived on motorcycles at about noon on Wednesday as villagers were at work.
"So far, 45 men have been killed, and there are others that died in the bushes as a result of bleeding from bullet wounds," said one resident, who gave his name only as Jabiru.
Trader Musa Abbani, who fled to Maiduguri, added, "The attackers destroyed more than half of the houses in our village, burned over 50 motorcycles and four cars before they took away foodstuff and animals."
Lawan, who visited Azaya Kura on Thursday under tight security, said: "How can some people be so wicked to kill innocent people, 45 people at once without any confrontation?
"There is no compulsion in religion, and I am still searching for the motive behind mass killing and destruction by some people under the guise of entrenching certain religion. I wish to appeal to the Federal Government to take urgent steps and rescue our people from imminent extinction," Lawan said.
The militants have taken some 20 towns in Nigeria and amassed a weapons stockpile seized from Nigerian army bases. They now use armored vehicles, landmines and rocket launchers.
A regional force — with 700 soldiers each from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria — is due to be deployed by the end of November, but will mainly concentrate on the area around Lake Chad, in the far north.
In Azaya Kura, survivors — most of them the elderly — were seen making preparations to bury the dead.
Al Jazeera and Agence-France Press