However it was unclear if the militants in Tuesday’s attack were linked to Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has waged an insurgency in northern Nigeria for three years now. Boko Haram and other Islamist groups usually operate further north than Nassarawa.
Police spokesman Sergie Ezegam said that, “Forty-six police officers were killed about 10km from Lafia by members of a militia who had ambushed them on their way to an operation to arrest the leader of the militia group.”
One of the local security sources said a Nassarawa based cult group without direct links to Islamists has emerged in 2013 and are becoming increasingly better armed.
Boko Haram and offshoots such as the al-Qaeda-linked group Ansaru, as well as associated criminal networks, are the main threat to stability in Africa’s top energy producer.
Even though Boko Haram’s attacks mostly occur in its north-east stronghold, their reach has grown in the last year, while Ansaru’s attacks include a siege on a police barracks in the capital Abuja and violence further south.
Ansaru, dubbed a terrorist group by Britain, claimed responsibility for a January attack in Kogi state on a convoy of Nigerian soldiers en route to deployment with West African forces in Mali. Kogi is south of Abuja and borders Nassarawa.
Western governments are increasingly concerned about Nigerian militants linking up with other jihadist groups in West Africa.
Boko Haram demands to carve out an Islamic state in a country which will be split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. The military there said that, Around 200 heavily armed suspected members of the group laid siege on the northeastern town of Bama on Tuesday, leaving 55 people dead.
Since their formation, attacks by Boko Haram have killed more than 3,000 people, based on figures from Human Rights Watch.