Gunmen in Nigeria kill at least 21 people, kidnap others, residents say

By Ahmed Kingimi

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) -Gunmen in Nigeria killed at least 21 people in northwest Niger state in an attack at a busy market, local residents and a local traditional leader said on Friday, the latest incidence of violence by armed gangs.

The attack follows the mass kidnapping this month of schoolchildren and several abductions in Kaduna.

Alhaji Isah Bawale, a traditional leader in Niger state's Madaka rural community said gunmen entered the market on Thursday and randomly opened fire, killing several people.

"They didn't spare anyone, they killed and abducted people," said Bawale, adding that officials were gathering information on the dead and missing.

But three other residents said that at least 21 people were killed.

"As I speak to you, about 21 persons have been confirmed killed," said Abdulganiyu Aliyu, who witnessed the incident.

"They (gunmen) did not stop there, they proceeded to set shops and vehicles on fire, and the clinic within the market area," Aliyu said by phone.

Another resident, market trader Hussaini Hasan confirmed that 21 people had been killed and that a number of women and children had been kidnapped.

Niger State Commissioner for Homeland Security Bello Abdullahi Mohammed confirmed the attack but did not provide details.

Kidnappings by criminal gangs with no ideological affiliation and demanding ransoms have become an almost daily occurrence, especially in northern Nigeria, tearing apart families and communities who have to pool savings to pay ransoms, often forcing them to sell land, cattle and grain to secure their loved ones' release.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi, writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Louise Heavens)