A large group of Boko Haram gunmen fleeing a military offensive on their camp in Nganzai district opened fire on four cars just outside Jingalta village, 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Maiduguri, killing all 20 passengers inside, a vigilante and a villager said.
“We received information of an attack by Boko Haram gunmen on four cars near Jingalta village where they shot dead all 20 occupants of the vehicles before setting the cars ablaze,” Babakura Kolo, a member of a local vigilante group assisting the military in fighting the Islamist sect in Maiduguri, told AFP.
“The gunmen were fleeing a military operation against one of their enclaves in the area around 9:30 am (0830GMT) when they came across the vehicles on the highway and opened fire on them,” Kolo said.
The gunmen, who were driving pick-up trucks and motorcycles, then looted and burnt the entire village whose residents had already fled following the attack, he added.
Jibir Hassan, a commercial bus driver who arrived at the scene after the gunmen had fled, confirmed the death toll.
“When we arrived at Jingalta village, we found it smouldering, with everything completely burnt and just outside the village we saw bodies sprawled by the roadside, 20 of them in all,” Hassan told AFP.
“Near the bodies were charred remains of four cars, still smouldering,” said Hassan, who was travelling to the state capital Maiduguri from Monguno town, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Jingalta.
Boko Haram gunmen regularly kill travellers they come across and raid villages while fleeing military offensives against their bases in the area, he said.
On Monday Boko Haram gunmen killed five travellers and injured another in nearby Mile 40 village, according to Hassan.
And last week, suicide bombers slew dozens of people in attacks on Maiduguri, where the radical movement first emerged.
The insurgency has claimed at least 17,000 lives since 2009.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who made the struggle against Boko Haram a priority as soon as he took up office in May, has given the armed forces until the end of the year to crush the Islamist movement.
Last week Wednesday, Buhari said the military was “well-positioned to meet the December deadline which they have been given”.
Campaigns by the armies of the region since the beginning of 2015 have taken back most of the territory held by the insurgents.