Around 100 cattle thieves open fire on Muslim congregation in remote Dutsen Gari village of Zamfara state, killing five and kidnapping 18 others, police say.

A herdsman climbs a tree to cut some vegetation for his animals during a shortage of grass in the mining town of restive Zamfara state in Nigeria on April 21, 2016. [FILE]
A herdsman climbs a tree to cut some vegetation for his animals during a shortage of grass in the mining town of restive Zamfara state in Nigeria on April 21, 2016. [FILE] (Reuters)

Gunmen have killed five worshippers and kidnapped 18 in an attack on a mosque during prayers in northwestern Nigeria's Zamfara state.

Police said on Sunday that around 100 cattle thieves on motorcycles opened fire on a Muslim congregation in remote Dutsen Gari village in Maru district as residents were observing the weekly Friday prayers.

"The bandits killed five worshippers and kidnapped 18 others, including the imam," state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said.

Residents however said more than 30 worshippers were abducted.

"The gunmen attacked the mosque while the imam was delivering the sermon and took away more than 30 people, including the imam, after shooting dead five worshippers," one resident, Ibrahim Altine, told AFP news agency.

READ MORE: Nigerian state offers cows for guns to halt attacks

Tense region 

Northwest Nigeria is a hotbed of criminal gangs who raid villages, stealing cattle, kidnapping for ransom, and burning homes after looting food supplies.

The gangs maintain camps in the Rugu forest which straddles Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, and Niger states from where they launch attacks.

Troop deployments and peace talks with local authorities have failed to end the attacks.

Unlike Boko Haram militants, the criminal gangs have no ideological leanings, but concerns are growing that the group is gradually infiltrating the gangs. 

Source: AFP