Nigerian police are investigating the murder of a family of 19 Fulani herders in the southeast of the country, a spokesman said Thursday, in a region where separatist tensions are rising.
The victims, including children, were attacked in their settlement in Oyi area of Anambra state on Sunday by gunmen who shot them at close range before mutilating their bodies, police said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but long-standing rivalries between communities of Fulani herders and farmers over land and water have revived ethnic tensions in different regions.
The outlawed separatist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which seeks an independent state for Igbo people, is also active in the region where the massacre took place.
“We are investigating the unfortunate incident to determine who are behind these gruesome murders of innocent people,” state police spokesman Tochukwu Ikenga told AFP.
Local media said the victims were the family head, nine women, six children and three men.
Some cows and sheep belonging to the herders were killed while their houses and belongings were vandalised, the media reported.
Residents as well as students of a nearby university have left over fears of reprisal attacks.
Ethnic clashes are not uncommon in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 250 ethnic and linguistic groups.
But tensions flared earlier this year in the mostly Yoruba-speaking southwest, with some local leaders blaming northern Fulani herders for an increase in crimes in their regions.
Several attacks have been carried out on Fulani settlements in Yoruba areas and the Igbo-speaking southeast by mobs from local communities.
Southeast Nigeria has also seen a surge in attacks targeting security forces that officials blame on IPOB. But the group has denied the charges.
Separatist calls for a state of Biafra in the south are a sensitive subject in Nigeria, after a unilateral declaration of independence in 1967 sparked a brutal 30-month civil war.