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Women and children drown while fleeing an attack in northern Nigeria

Several women and children drowned while trying to escape an armed attack in Nigeria’s troubled northern region, residents and a government official said Thursday.

The victims died when their boats capsized while fleeing an hours-long assault by unidentified gunmen Wednesday night on the Birnin Waje community in Zamfara state, said Ibrahim Zauma, a resident.

“The situation is dire because most of the people have run away from their homes. The dead bodies recovered so far is 13,” Zauma said.

It was not clear how many people might have drowned, but many who fled their homes had not returned to the area, which residents said remained volatile more than 24 hours after the violence.

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Ibrahim Bello, a Zamfara government spokesman, confirmed the attack, saying that “an unknown number of mostly women and children got drowned” as they sought to escape in two boats.

He did not say whether any arrests had been made.

The attack was the latest in a cycle of violence by armed groups targeting remote communities in Nigeria’s northwest and central regions.

Authorities often blame the attacks on a group of mostly young pastoralists from the Fulani tribe caught up in Nigeria’s conflict between communities and herdsmen over limited access to water and land.

The deadly clashes between local communities and the herdsmen have defied government measures seeking to quell the violence, although security forces have recently announced some arrests and seizure of arms.

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Nigeria’s security forces are outnumbered and outgunned in many of the affected communities while authorities also continue to fight a decade-long insurgency launched by Islamist extremist rebels in the northeast.

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