Nigerian forces have bombarded alleged camps held by “bandits” in the northwest of the country with the aim of ending violence in the region, villagers said Sunday.
The campaign began Thursday and has caused massive losses for a group led by gang leader Bello Turji, they said.
“Troops have been advancing deep inside the forest and fighter jets have also been bombarding the bandits,” Dangana Muhammad, a resident of the village of Shinkafi, told AFP.
“Bodies of Turji’s men litter the forest and all his camps were destroyed,” Muhammed said, quoting residents of the nearby village of Fakai. “We hear thunderous sounds of explosions and can see plumes of black smoke from the explosions.”
The assailants have been active in the north and centre of Nigeria for years, but they have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, murdering and kidnapping villagers, according to local sources.
The air and land operation in Zamfara state targets “bandits” loyal to Turji, one of the main gang leaders in Zamfara and neighbouring Sokoto blamed for deadly attacks.
Sources close to local authorities have said Turji has called for a truce in a letter seen by AFP but which has yet to be authenticated.
We need to meet with our traditional leaders and Islamic clerics,” Turji said in the letter.
“If that is done, I promise to retrieve all firearms used in banditry and return them to Nigerian authorities.”
Turji, 27, cited five conditions including an end to discrimination against Fulani nomads and the disbanding of vigilante groups fighting the gangs, who are also accused of summary executions.
It was not the first time a gang leader has sought a truce with the authorities.
Awwalun Daudawa, a bandit chief behind the kidnapping of 300 students in nearby Katsina state in December 2020, renounced armed conflict in February under a government amnesty.
Daudawa went on to flout the agreement, and was killed in May in a clash with a rival gang.