Jihadists in northeast Nigeria have since February 25 killed 27 people in four separate attacks, security sources and residents told AFP on February 27.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), who split from rival Boko Haram jihadists in 2016, has escalated attacks in recent weeks, despite ongoing military operations.

Late on February 26, ISWAP killed 24 civilians in three villages in Borno state, an anti-jihadist militia leader and a resident told AFP.

They said the civilians were targeted for helping troops fighting the militants.

Military spokespeople and local officials have not yet confirmed the attacks and did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

The villages are on the fringes of Sambisa forest, a major jihadist hideout.

Fighters drove into Sabongarin Kimba, Mandara-Girau and Ngama villages in Biu district, targeting residents, the sources said.

“The terrorists killed 24 people in the three villages last night,” an anti-jihadist militia leader Mustapha Karimbe said.

“They moved from village to village, selecting their targets and slaughtering them,” said Karimbe, adding that nine residents were killed in Sabongarin Kimba, seven in Mandara-Girau and eight in Ngama.

He said soldiers had enlisted the help of villagers to clear shrubs along the highway linking the villages, which the militants use as cover for ambushes.

The attacks were “punishment for the residents’ aiding soldiers,” he added.

The jihadists had sent a warning to villagers not to clear the foliage threatening “grave consequences”, said another militia member, Umar Ari, giving the same death toll.

Resident of nearby Biu town, Ahmad Babagana said the militants stormed Sabongarin Kimba around 2000 GMT before proceeding to Ngama and Mandara-Girau.

“It was clear they knew the residents they were after,” said Babagana who also gave the same death toll.

Late on February 25, ISWAP staged another attack in Chibok, where Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in 2014, sparking international outcry.

Fighters in trucks and motorcycles stormed the Christian village of Kautikeri in Chibok district, killing three residents and destroying a church, two residents said.

“They came around 5:45pm (1645 GMT) and attacked the village with guns, killing three people and burning a church,” Kautikeri resident Samson Bulus said.

Another resident, Samson Silas, gave the same account.

It was the second jihadist attack on the village in a month.

On January 20, ISWAP killed two residents and abducted 20 children, according to two residents and a community leader.

The military says it has killed 180 fighters and arrested 130 others suspected of terrorism in the northeast since the end of January alone.

The 12-year-old conflict has killed at least 40,000 people from fighting alone and displaced more than two million from their homes.