Nigeria's security forces have been put on high alert after a new burst of sectarian violence left over 500 people dead, most of them women and children hacked to death by machete wielding gangs.

The attack happened before dawn on Sunday morning when gangs of men descended on several mainly Christian villages near the central city of Jos, firing guns as they approached. Witnesses of the attack, which centred on the village of Dogo-Nahawa, described how victims were caught in animal traps and fishing nets as they tried to flee their attackers.

A resident of Dogo-Nahawa said that the attackers had fired guns as they entered the village, to lure their victims out of their houses. "The shooting was just meant to bring people from their houses and then when people came out they started cutting them with machetes," said Peter Gyang, who lost his wife and two children .

Dan Manjang, a state government advisor, confirmed that 500 people had been killed. "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," Mr Manjang said in a telephone interview.

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