KANO // Nigerian soldiers moved house to house yesterday in an urgent bid to hunt down attackers responsible for the massacre of 40 people who were shot or had their throats slit in a student housing area.
The raid in the early hours of Tuesday near a polytechnic university shook the town of Mubi, located in Nigeria's volatile north-east, where Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has carried out scores of previous attacks.
Last week in Mubi, Nigeria's military conducted a high-profile raid targeting the group, killing a senior Boko Haram figure and arresting 156 suspected members.
Motives for the gruesome off-campus attack however remained unclear, with some officials suggesting the massacre may have been linked to a recent student election.
Police have given an official death toll of 25, saying at least 22 of the victims were students. A school official said yesterday that the death toll was at least 40, but he could not immediately say how many were students.
"Based on accounts from locals, at least 40 people were killed in the attack," the official from the polytechnic school said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
"Twenty-five were the ones taken to the morgue. At least 15 of the victims whose families are in Mubi were taken away by relatives."
Abubakar Ahmed, head of the Red Cross in Adamawa state, where Mubi is located, said troops were going door-to-door looking for suspects.
Police spokesman Mohammed Ibrahim said security forces had blanketed Mubi, a commercial hub and university town located near the border with Cameroon.
According to Mr Ibrahim, the attackers knew their victims and called them out by name in a student housing area off-campus of Federal Polytechnic Mubi, an ethnically mixed school with several thousand students.
Residents said it seemed the victims were both Muslim and Christian, but police had not commented as is often the case in Nigeria, where ethnic and religious divisions regularly lead to unrest.
The suggestion that the killings were linked to the student election raised questions over how and why the dispute would have turned so violent.
There were suggestions of ethnic tensions between the mainly Muslim Hausas and predominately Christian Igbos involved in the vote, and a spokesman for the national emergency management agency said some of the victims were candidates.