Cattle thieves have killed 23 people in northern Nigeria's Zamfara state which has been battling cattle rustling and kidnapping in recent months, a local government official said late Saturday.
Armed bandits on motorcycles invaded Zanoka village in the state on Friday, opening fire on residents and burning homes, said Mustapha Muhammad, the chairman of the local government area.
"We buried 23 people killed in the attack, including vigilantes who tried to fight off the bandits", he said.
"They torched homes and burnt some of their victims alive before fleeing into the bush".
Muhammad said the gunmen had earlier on Friday invaded the remote village, carting away some cattle but were forced to flee by local vigilantes who fought them off and reclaimed the stolen herd.
Hours later, the thieves mobilised more men and returned to the village, 160 kilometres from the state capital Gusau, where they opened fire and burnt homes.
State police spokesman Muhammad Shehu said police had recovered 15 bodies from the village following the attack.
"Most of the victims were vigilantes who put up a fight against the bandits," he said.
Cattle rustlers have for several years been terrorising herding and farming villages in the state, stealing herds and killing residents who resist them.
The attacks prompted villagers to form vigilante groups to fight off the bandits.
The vigilantes have also been accused of abuses and killings of suspected thieves, prompting reprisals.
In recent years, the gangs have turned to kidnapping for ransom, prompting government to deploy troops to the affected communities, but the criminals attacks persist.