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KADUNA, Nigeria — Gunmen shot, hacked and burned to death at least 100 people and razed homes in central Nigeria, a region riven by disputes over land, religion and ethnicity, local officials and witnesses said on Sunday.
Police confirmed the raids by Fulani herdsman at around 11 p.m. on Friday on three villages in Kaduna state, but declined to give a death toll.
Hundreds have been killed in the past year in clashes pitting the cattle-herding and largely Muslim Fulani people against mostly Christian settled communities like the Berom in Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where its mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.
"I came back from the market and there were bullets flying all around the village," said Pius Nna, 64, of Ungwan Gata village. He escaped by jumping across an open well and fleeing into the bush.
"I saw three people running into my house to take refuge. They were macheted to death before my eyes," he said, adding that he saw a Fulani neighbor directing the gunmen where to go.
The unrest in central Nigeria is not usually linked to the insurgency in the northeast by Boko Haram, an al Qaeda-linked group which wants to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria.
However, analysts say there is a risk the insurgents will try to stoke central Nigeria's conflict. Although most of the Islamist sect's attacks are contained further north, it did claim a 2011 Christmas Day bomb attack at a church in the central city of Jos.
"We are still picking bodies out of the bush but so far there are more than 100 killed," said Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura local government authority.
Andrew Kazah, another local councilor, said at least 96 had been killed, but that the toll was likely to go up.