UPDATE 1-Gunmen kill eight, burn church in central Nigeria - security official

Wed Jun 11, 2014 12:30pm EDT

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(Adds police spokesman, background)

JOS, Nigeria, June 11 (Reuters) - Gunmen killed at least eight people and burned down a church as they charged through two villages in Nigeria's central Plateau state hours before dawn on Wednesday, a security official said.

Officers said they were investigating who was behind the raids in Nigeria's "Middle Belt", where the country's largely Muslim north and Christian south meet - a common flashpoint for violence.

Islamist Boko Haram rebels based in the remote northeast showed their reach in May by setting off bombs in Plateau state's capital Jos, around 300 miles from their strongholds. They have killed thousands since starting a five-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamist state.

Plateau state has also seen thousands killed in violence between largely Christian Berom farmers and Muslim Fulani cattle herders over the past decade.

"Gunmen stormed the villages of Tanjol and Tashek ... and shot sporadically in the air, then killed eight people," said Captain Iweha lkejichi, from the area's joint task force combining army and police. The attackers torched one church and several houses, he added.

Police spokesman Dominic Esin said nine people were killed and two churches burned down in the attacks.

(Reporting by Shuabu Mohammed; Additional reporting by Issac Abrak in Abuja; Writing by Andrew Heavens; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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