Gunmen killed 48 people on Tuesday when they attacked a village in Nigeria's Zamfara state.

A state spokesman said the gunmen arrived before dawn riding motorbikes. They climbed over a hill that overlooks Kizara village and randomly opened fire before going house-to-house, attacking residents.

The attack lasted more than five hours and some of the gunmen positioned on the hill also shot at residents of neighboring villages who tried to help those in Kizara.

"I woke up in the morning to get my children set for work on my farm. I suddenly started to hear gun shots. I listened attentively and I realized that sounds of the gun shots were coming directly behind me," said Alhaji Ali Hakimi, who survived the attack.

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"I then sensed trouble and quickly ran into my house. I saw one of my children standing at the compound and I told him to hide himself in a room close to mine but before he did that they came and shot him dead."

The mass shooting has been dubbed a revenge attack after the villagers had formed vigilante groups to try to end a string of violent thefts. The gunmen searched for suspected members of the groups and shot them and their families. Among the dead is the chief imam, as well as a man believed to be the head of a vigilante group.

Africa's most populous country and biggest oil producer, Nigeria has also been battling an insurgency of Islamist militants, although the latest attack is not believed to be linked to the other violence.

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