At least 500 people were killed Sunday in communal clashes near Nigeria\'s central city of Jos, a state governor\'s advisor told AFP Monday, revising a previous toll of around 100 dead.
\"We have been able to make 95 arrests but at the same time over 500 people have been killed in this heinous act... by Fulani herdsmen,\" Dan Manjang said in a telephone interview.
Earlier the country\'s acting president put security forces on alert after machete wielding gangs carried out the massacre close to the city, officials said.
Witnesses described how victims were caught in animal traps and fishing nets as they tried to flee their attackers, who hacked them to death in what appeared to have been a well-organised attack.
Much of the violence in the early hours of Sunday was centred around the village of Dogo Nahawa, near the Jos, where a journalist counted a total of 103 bodies amid the smouldering embers.
But the raiders also set fire to dozens of houses in the nearby villages of Ratsat and Zot, all less than 10 kilometres (seven miles) from Jos and home to members of the Berom ethnic group.
\"These villages were attacked by Fulani herdsmen killing scores of people and burning houses,\" Ratsat resident David Daniel Daniel told AFP.
Other residents and local rights activists also blamed the attacks on the Fulani ethnic group.
In Jos, Yusuf Alkali, a member of the Fulani ethic group, said he believed the attacks were a reprisal for the killings of four herdsmen two weeks ago when a Fulani settlement was attacked by ethnic Berom youths.
Officials displayed another 18 bodies at the morgue in Jos -- the scene of inter-religious riots in January that left several hundred people dead.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan \"has placed all the security services in Plateau (State) and neighbouring states on red alert so as to stem any cross border dimensions to this latest conflict,\" his office said in a statement.
\"He has also directed that the security services undertake strategic initiatives to confront and defeat these roving bands of killers,\" it added.
Dan Manjang, an advisor to the Plateau state government confirmed that troops had been deployed to the area.
But traumatised residents accused local officials of having turned a blind eye to the bloodshed.
\"The operation started around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) and lasted till 6:00 am and there were gunshots, but we did not see a single policeman,\" Peter Gyang, who lost his wife and two children, told reporters in Dogo Nahawa.
\"We no longer have confidence in the security agencies.\"
Many of the victims had been hacked to death as they tried to run for their lives, he added.
\"Gunshots were fired just to scare people out of their houses only to be macheted as they fled into the bush,\" he said.
\"It seems the attacks were well coordinated as the attackers launched ... (them) simultaneously,\" Shamaki Gad Peter, head of League for Human Rights in Jos, told AFP as he toured Ratsat village.
Houses and food granaries were still smouldering more than 12 hours after the attacks.
Parts of Jos and its environs are still under a dusk-to-dawn curfew since the January religious clashes.
This central region of Nigeria had been a regular ethnic and religious flashpoint.
An explosion of violence between rival ethic and religious groups in January left 326 dead in Jos, according to police although other human rights activiets put the overall toll at more than 550.
In November 2008, the federal government sent in the troops after Christians and Muslims fought each other using firearms and machetes in clashes that followed a contested election in Jos.
Â©Â Copyright AFP Agence France-Presse GmbH - All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed. All reproduction or redistribution is expressly forbidden without the prior written agreement of AFP.