A series of ritual killings of young women in the West African nation of Cameroon has caused panic in the capital city Yaounde.
Families are now refusing to let their daughters go out after a spate of gruesome killings of young girls who were abducted by the drivers of motorcycle taxis before being murdered and dismembered.
Police have found 18 mutilated bodies on the streets of the capital in the past two weeks, five of them outside a nursery school, and all are believed to be linked to occult rituals.
In some parts of the country traditional healers believe that body parts including eyes, genitals, breasts and tongues have mystical powers, with many believing they bring riches and other good fortune. Others believe that performing a human sacrifice will bring good luck.
Ritual killings were common in Cameroon until the 1970s but as education spread, the number of murders decreased.
Now families fear the practice is coming back, with the latest wave of killings causing near-hysteria in the capital city.
This week, the sister of a 17-year-old girl whose corpse was found on Friday outside a nursery school, minus the genitals, tongue, eyes, hair and breasts, wrote to Cameroon President Paul Biya demanding action to prevent further killings.
Deborah Ngoh Tonye Epouse Mvaebeme said her sister, Michele Mbala Mvogo, a student at the government bilingual High School Yaounde was abducted three days before her body was found outside a nursery school.
She accused the city's commonly-used motorcycle taxi drivers of facilitating the murder, and said the government had failed to do enough to protect the victims, who were from the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of Mimboman and Biteng.
One local said: 'The moto-taxi drivers are the assassins' accomplices, and their targets are girls aged 16-25 who get the taxis after nightfall. For a large sum of money, these girls are delivered to men in the suburbs who do the rest.'
The head of a Mimboman nursery school told afrik.com how she found one of the bodies outside her school.
She said: 'It was a strong smell of rotting that drew my attention, so I decided to do a tour of the school.
'That's how I found, behind one classroom, a body of a young girl in an advanced state of decomposition, with her underwear placed on her feet, before my very eyes.'
Families in the neighbourhood are said to be in a state of hysteria, banning their girls from taking motorbike taxis and keeping them indoors after dark.
Communication minister Tchiroma Bakary said: 'Ritual sacrifices with a demoniac connotation are unacceptable and intolerable, and the government will do all it can to put a stop to it.'
Ngoh Tonye, whose sister was murdered, told CNN: 'There is laxity in the forces in ensuring security in the capital.'
The bodies of the five most recent victims were identified yesterday, according to a State security official who said most of the victims were high school students aged 15-26.
Two men have been arrested in connection with the killings but so far no charges have been brought.
The Cameroon capital, which has a population of just over two million, is in a state of distress with families staying behind locked doors as soon as darkness falls.
Police warn pedestrians to walk in groups at all times and have cracked down on local bars frequented by criminals, shutting them down in the dozens.
Vigilante groups of young men guard the streets at night and hunt for the killers, as the people of Yaounde say the police are not doing enough to keep the city safe.
The new wave of gruesome killings in the capital has also seen dozens of complaints about mutilated corpses in the mortuaries of Yaounde's public hospitals, according to Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda.