More than 20 villagers were killed in two separate attacks by gunmen in the troubled northern state of Kaduna in Africa's population giant Nigeria, local officials said Monday.
The death toll from Sunday's violence against the villages of Malagum 1 and Sakwong in Kaura district rose to 28 or 37, according to sources.
Criminal gangs have been attacking villages in the northwest and central parts of the country for years, stealing livestock, kidnapping people for ransom, looting food and burning down homes.
Atuk Stephen, a Kaura district official, told a local television station that 37 people had been killed by bandits who had burned more than 100 homes and several vehicles.
Other local sources put the death toll at 28.
The Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, confirmed that several people were killed in the attacks, but did not give a definite death toll. He added that the army had deployed to the area to hunt down the attackers.
Kaduna is one of the states most affected by "bandits" in northern Nigeria.
This situation is compounded by sometimes deadly clashes between nomadic cattle herders and local farmers over grazing and water rights, which have taken on ethnic and religious dimensions.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is under intense pressure to end the violence before he leaves office next year after an eight-year term.
The "bandits", described as "terrorists" by the federal government, are motivated by greed. But analysts worry about growing links with jihadist groups in the northeast, which have been waging an insurgency there for 13 years.