Gunmen have killed nine mourners at a funeral ceremony in Mbakange village of Mbacher ward in Kastina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State.
Villagers said that the incident which occurred on Saturday caused pandemonium in the area as people scampered to safety in all directions.
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The villagers alleged that the gunmen stormed the venue of the funeral and opened gunfire on mourners, killing nine of them on the spot.
Chairman of Kastina-Ala LGA, Alfred Atera, told our correspondent on the telephone that the incident happened on Saturday afternoon at the burial of a tax collector, Zaki Atser Nor, at Mbakange, Mbacher Ward.
Atera said bandits invaded the burial and killed nine persons including one Zaki Isaac Vaatyouhh Gande.
The chairman added that three other persons were critically injured with various gun bullets and had been taken to a nearby clinic for first aid before proper medical attention.
He, however, in response to a question by our correspondent, Atera stated that the killing was a reprisal by the gunmen for the operation carried out in the area by troops of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) the previous day during which a notorious criminal in the vicinity, Junta was killed.
“You know one of the boys, Junta was killed. It was a reprisal. On Friday, the military carried out another operation during which Apaapa and Orbutee were also killed so it was a reprisal.
“I’m on my way from that place now where l went to condole with the family. I also expressed my disappointment; what we normally do here is that we provide security for any burial but they said they didn’t want security thinking that the presence of the security will attract the boys.
“What they were afraid of has happened, they were afraid of security and the boys came and attacked them. They killed innocent people. Out of the people killed, four were from Kastina-Ala while the remaining five came from other places. In fact, the in-law who provided the casket for the burial was also shot dead. He came from Vandekiya to witness the burial but was killed,” Atera said.
Meanwhile, the OPWS Force Commander, Major General Kevin Aligbe, has dismissed claims of reprisal in a telephone conversation with newsmen in Makurdi, saying that his troop’s operation carried out in the area had nothing to do with the tragedy.
“It is true that we are on operation around that area the reason is that these guys (bandits) have been killing people and extorting people so whatever happened yesterday (Saturday) is not as a result of what we are doing because some of them (bandits) have submitted weapons within the last two weeks or something like that.
“They have just made up their mind that they are going to make the place unsafe for law-abiding citizens. But in the next two weeks, we are going to get all of them that is a sure promise to Benue people,” Aligbe assured.