Boko Haram, the radical Sunni jihadists who want to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has previously been blamed for attacks on Shia Muslims in the region
Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Boko Haram Islamists shot dead at least nine people and set homes on fire in a raid on two villages in conflict-hit northeastern Nigeria, fleeing residents told AFP on Thursday.
Villagers described how dozens of gunmen on motorbikes stormed Tadagara and Dunbulwa villages, 170 kilometres (100 miles) from Yobe state capital Damaturu, from Wednesday night through to the following morning.
All nine victims were gunned down with assault rifles as the jihadis attacked Tadagara around 10:30 pm (2130 GMT), looting thatch-roofed mud homes and shops before setting them ablaze, according to witnesses.
"Boko Haram gunmen came on motorcycles and opened fire on the village after we had retired for the night and killed nine residents," Tadagara villager Shuaibu Nuhu told AFP.
"We fled into the bush from where we saw fire erupting from our homes as the gunmen set them alight after looting them."
Residents said the Islamists stayed until dawn, sheltering from heavy rain before moving to nearby Dunbulwa village.
The inhabitants there had been warned of the danger by escaped Tadagara residents however and had fled by the time the gunmen arrived.
"We luckily left the village as soon as we heard Boko Haram gunmen were on the attack in Tadagara which was why they found the village empty," said Dunbulwa resident Sani Mai-Masara.
"They carted away food and jerry cans of fuel. They then set fire to our homes."
- Hundreds forced to flee -
The attacks forced hundreds of villagers to flee to the town of Potiskum, 70 kilometres away, according to residents there.
Boko Haram's bloody insurgency in Nigeria has left more than 15,000 people dead since 2009 and has increasingly spread across the country's borders, with Chad and Cameroon suffering deadly suicide bombings in recent months.
The extremist group, whose name roughly translates as "Western education is forbidden", has carried on its campaign of attacks on security forces, suicide bombings and bloody raids on villages across Nigeria's north and eastern borders despite a major regional military campaign against them.
The latest violence in the region comes just over two months after President Muhammadu Buhari took office vowing to crush the Islamist jihadists, now affiliated with the Islamic State group.
Boko Haram fighters have been using the islets in Lake Chad as a rear base after being routed from their traditional strongholds in Nigeria by a four-country military offensive against them.
The Chadian army has launched a "major operation" to flush out Boko Haram jihadists from the vast lake, however, sparking violent clashes between soldiers and the group.
The attacks in Yobe came a day after Boko Haram fighters shot dead nine fishermen near the town of Baga by Lake Chad in neighbouring Borno State.
A week earlier the Islamists slit the throats of 10 fishermen in an attack on three other nearby villages.
Baga was the site of the group's worst-ever massacre in January, when its fighters were accused of slaughtering hundreds of people and forcing thousands of civilians to flee.