The day started off well like any other for her, her daughter and granddaughter. It, however, would be one of the most horrific days of her life.
Looking lost and forlorn, with no hope of what the future held for her, Hajiya Hadiza Mohammad had lost everything just in a twinkle of an eye. She lost her daughter, granddaughter, her unborn grandchild, and everything precious to her when mayhem struck her village.
Still shaken, she says, “My daughter was pregnant and she was beaten, killed, and set ablaze in her room. Her daughter was pushed into the room to burn with her, which is what hurts the most. I did not only lose my pregnant daughter, but my granddaughter also, along with cows and foodstuff. I am devastated.” Those were the sad and heart-piercing words of Hajiya Hadiza.
Last week’s attack on the villages of Dankar and Tsauwa in Batsari Local Government Area of Katsina State was one of the deadliest and most horrifying ever recorded in the ongoing attacks on communities in the state. It left a lot of people in sadness and pain.
In Dankar, nine persons were killed while at Tsauwa 21 lost their lives, out of which 15 were set ablaze and eight died from gunshots.
Eye witnesses say some of those killed in Dankar were patients on admission at the village health centre where the bandits entered and shot them.
At Tsauwa, the devastation was worse as over 70 houses were burnt and more than 40 animals killed.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the attack was also different in the sense that no one was kidnapped or foodstuff or animals reported stolen or rustled by the bandits as is the usual pattern of previous attacks in the state.
This attack saw human beings massacred in the most gruesome manner. Women and the elderly were burnt alive while children were forcefully collected from their mothers and thrown into burning fires. Houses, animals and foodstuff were also burnt.
The locals, while narrating their experience, said the bandits numbering over 150 on motorcycles, with two or three persons on each motorcycle, surrounded the town before the attack. They started by burning houses, and then shooting at people running out from the burning houses.
Some went into houses and burnt barns, killing both human beings and animals. Some people who locked themselves in their rooms had their houses set on fire.
During a visit to the towns the following day at about 2 pm alongside security operatives, the fire still smoldered in some places with some corpses still littered around. There were heaps of ashes of burnt houses, as well as dark patches of what were probably people’s belongings. A number of charred remains of children wrapped in cloth elicited tears from everyone around. The burnt remains of some children clinging onto each other were too emotional to behold, especially for parents.
In one of the houses, a woman with her four children was seen burnt. The husband Ismail and his brother, Dalha, were all killed during the attack.
The corpse of an old man clutching a small boy half-burnt was seen in another house.
As the team moved to another house, the corpse of 50-year-old Bara’u was seen being prepared for burial. He had two gunshot wounds on his back.
Narrating horrifying tales, some survivors said what happened was just like a scene from a movie.
Alhaji Akilu Garba, who lost two children – Yado, 2, and Firdausi, 6, said both of them were in the room when it was set ablaze. “I came back from the mosque to find them burnt in the house. I managed to collect what remained of their burnt parts to bury. This isn’t what I ever thought I would do in my life. I never thought my children would face such terrible and painful death or that I would be the one burying them. I can imagine how they must have screamed for help,” he said with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Malam Abdulaziz though fortunate to have escaped with his wife and four children by jumping over the fence of his house, said it was a horrifying experience. He narrated to Daily Trust Saturday that “I heard noises as they came to set the house on fire so we ran away. My cows and foodstuff were all burnt but I am grateful and full of thanks that I didn’t lose my wife, children or even my life.”
Malam Yusuf Usman said “I was walking home when I heard them coming like swarm of bees, and I ran and hid behind some rocks. From the distance, I saw my house being set ablaze. Afterwards, I came back home to discover all my animals burnt,” he said.
Lawal Isa, while giving thanks to God, said they ran with every ounce of energy in them and were lucky to have survived because the bandits were shooting sporadically. He also noted that “most of those that were killed were the elderly and sick who couldn’t move. The majority of those who survived did so by running into bushes and rocks,” he said.
The village head of Tsauwa, Mai Unguwa Ibrahim Zangina, said motorcycles carrying two to three bandits each entered the village and shot sporadically while residents were observing their Magrib prayers. Some were shot dead while performing ablution.
He said infants were taken from their mothers’ laps and thrown into burning fires, just as the elderly who could not run were shot at. He added that foodstuffs were burned and domestic animals used by the people to fetch water were killed.
He dispelled rumours that the attacks were a reprisal as they had no previous record of any fight with any group or bandits.
Speaking with newsman during on-the-spot assessment, the state Commissioner of Police Sanusi Buba said security operatives mobilised to the scene upon receiving information of the attack. “The terrain is bad and there’s no telecom network service there. We engaged them and they got scared and left, but before then many houses have been set ablaze. It looked like a selected manner of burning; I don’t know what could have informed this dastardly act.”
He said even if it was a reprisal attack as speculated, the governor had done his best to ensure sanity is brought to bear on the warring communities, herders and farmers. “We traversed the length and breadth of this state to ensure peace. With this development, which is sad, definitely we are going after the hoodlums. In this village, 21 were killed and most of them were the aged who could not run when the hoodlums came,” he said.
Governor Aminu Masari has visited the villages to sympathise with them. Masari said it was disheartening that people were killed not even kidnapped while food items were burnt not carted away, stressing that the gruesome manner of the killings where people are thrown into the fire was inhumane and uncalled for.
Already, the police said they have arrested a suspect and recovered some motorcycles used during the attack. The spokesman of the state Police Command, SP Gambo Isah, said the suspect was arrested at a market with some stolen animals suspected to be from the villages, trying to dispose them.
Meanwhile, the surviving villagers have all relocated to neighbouring town and villages for respite and safety. The men usually return during the day and disperse by evening since the attack, hoping that peace will once again return to their community.
Hajiya Hadiza Mohammad, who lost her daughter and granddaughter had nothing to say as a parting word than: “Even in war, women and children are spared. This is really sad for us. Who takes responsibility for children whose parents have been killed? I cry because it hurts but there is nothing I can do but pray for them,” she said.