A gang armed with wooden clubs and iron bars, screaming that they were going to "cleanse" their Nigerian neighbourhood of gay people, dragged 14 young men from their beds and assaulted them, human rights activists said yesterday.
Four of the victims were marched to a police station, where they were allegedly kicked, punched and abused by police, said Ifeanyi Orazulike of the International Centre on Advocacy for the Right to Health.
Police told the men they would be jailed for 14 years, he said, the maximum sentence under new Nigerian legislation dubbed the "Jail the Gays" law.
Activists have warned the law could trigger attacks such as the one in the early hours of Thursday in Abuja, the capital of Africa's most populous nation.
Mob justice is common in Nigeria and civil rights organisations have been warning for years of an increase in community violence and the government's failure to curb acts in which people have been beaten to death for perceived crimes such as theft.
The US Embassy said in a statement on Friday: "Since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed, we have expressed concern … that it might be used by some to justify violence against Nigerians based on their sexual orientation. Recent attacks in Abuja deepen our concern on this front."
A police spokeswoman said she was unaware of the attack.
Orazulike said he got a panicked e-mail from a colleague who said he was hiding from a mob of 40 people who struck at about 1am on Thursday.
They went from house to house saying their mission was "to cleanse" the area of gays. He said they used pieces of wood and iron to batter 14 young men.
Orazulike said he drove from his home at 4am to save the man who sent the e-mail in Gishiri, a shantytown near central Abuja.
Those attacked were in hiding and too scared to speak to reporters, he said, recounting their story. "They were told 'If you come back, we will kill you'," Orazulike said.
The walls of their houses were painted with graffiti declaring: "Homosexuals, pack and leave."
Orazulike said he went to the police station later on Thursday and met a senior officer who ordered the release of the four men because there was no evidence that they were gay.
Four of the others were severely injured, he said.
Dozens of allegedly gay people have been arrested since the bill was signed into law last month. It forbids gay marriage, which carries a 14-year jail sentence, and makes it a crime for anyone - straight or homosexual - to hold a meeting of gays or to advocate human rights for gays.