A woman holds a sign during a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos May 5, 2014. (Photo:Reuters)
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped at least 20 young mothers near a town in northeast Nigeria where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted nearly two months ago, sources told AFP on Tuesday.
There were conflicting reports of how many women were abducted from the nomadic settlement near Chibok in Borno state, with one local leader putting the number as high as 40.
But the latest kidnappings, which happened on Saturday in and around the village of Garkin Fulani, eight kilometres (five miles) from Chibok, were the latest in a spate in the area.
"Available information revealed that the gunmen came around noon (1100 GMT) and abducted 20 women and three young men left to keep watch on the village," said Alhaji Tar, of a local vigilante group.
"All the males in the settlement were away in the bush with their herd (of cattle) for grazing when the abductors came to the village."
There was no immediate indication of where the women were taken and there had been no contact from the kidnappers.
A local official of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) said 40 young mothers were singled out and put into vehicles before being driven to an unknown location.
MACBAN is the umbrella organisation of the nomadic Fulani cattle herders in Nigeria.
Similar kidnappings for ransom have been going on in the area for some time but locals were too afraid to speak out in fear of reprisals from the Islamist militants, the official said.
"This is not the first time women are being kidnapped in this area and only released when we pay cattle ransom to the kidnappers. It has happened several times," said the official.
"They come and go door-to-door bringing women outside and select young women and take them away in their vehicles and demand between 30 and 40 cows for their release", he explained.
Locals always paid the ransom but do not inform the authorities, he said.
A Borno state government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authorities were aware of the kidnapping of women from the village but denied knowledge of previous abductions.
"This is the first time we are hearing abduction of Fulani women and we are working to establish the circumstances surrounding the kidnap and necessary action to take," he added.