According to a local official, gunmen attacked a rural village in northern Nigeria, killing 16 worshippers at a mosque and kidnapping others.

The assault on Ba’are village in Niger state’s Mashegu region lasted several hours on Thursday, according to local government chairman Alhassan Isah Mazakuka.

He claimed that dozens of assailants arrived on motorcycles and went on a rampage through the village, killing people praying at the mosque and looting.

“Those people (the gunmen) are dangerous,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “They murdered 16 people and kidnapped a large number of our people.” We don’t even know how many people they kidnapped because they are innumerable.”

The incident was confirmed by Nigerian police, but only nine residents were killed. The police have previously been accused of exaggerating casualty figures in such attacks.

The attack is the latest in a string of attacks in northwestern and northcentral Nigeria, where armed groups have been targeting remote communities, killing and kidnapping residents for ransom.

The large groups of attackers are mostly made up of Fulani young men, who have traditionally worked as nomadic cattle herders and are embroiled in a decades-long conflict with Hausa farming communities over access to water and grazing land.

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The gunmen appear to be becoming more organized and well-armed, but they have not publicly stated their political goals or motivations. So far, the lawless groups — which, according to a Nigerian governor, number more than 150 — have no names or known leaders, but they were recently declared terrorist organizations by a court.

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Nigeria’s security forces are already overburdened from fighting Islamic extremists in the northeast for more than a decade. Armed groups outnumber and outgun security forces in many remote communities in northern Nigeria.

When troops arrive to put a stop to their attacks, the bandits flee into the surrounding forest. However, once the soldiers leave, the violent attacks resume. Rural communities that are vulnerable say they need more protection.

“We are suffering from bandits (here),” said Mazakuka, the chairman of the local government. “All we need now are prayers, as we have been pleading for government assistance.” The government has done its best, but we still require assistance.”

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