Aiming to “cleanse” their community of gays, a gang armed with wooden clubs and iron bars in Nigeria dragged fourteen men from their homes and assaulted them.

Human rights activists said that four of the victims were marched to a police station by the mob of around 40 where they were verbally assaulted, kicked and punched.

Ifeanyi Orazulike of the International Centre on Advocacy for the Right to Health said police had said the men perceived to be gay would be locked up for fourteen years – the maximum prison sentence under the country’s new anti-gay law.

He said he received an alarming email from a colleague who said that he was hiding from a gang of 40 people seeking to “cleanse” the area of gays. The email said the gang used wood and iron to beat the men.

The men were told: “If you come back, we will kill you,” and the walls of some victims were covered with graffiti reading “Homosexuals, pack and leave.”

Activists have voiced concern that the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act could be the trigger for attacks such as this one in Abuja.

The US Embassy said in a statement on Friday: “Since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed, we have expressed concern as a friend of Nigeria 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.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, a police spokeswoman for the Federal Capital Territory, Altine Daniel, said she was unaware of the attack.

Four men were released from police custody, after having been severely beaten, and there was no evidence they were gay, and had not been found having sex.

The internationally condemned law, now nicknamed the “Jail the Gays” law, was signed by President Jonathan some time in January.

Police in Nigeria have already been accused of using torture and entrapment to compile and add to lists of men assumed to be gay, leading to dozens of arrests.

A man in northern Nigeria also received 20 lashes after a Sharia court convicted him of breaking laws against same-sex activity.

Mubarak Ibrahim, 20, was among 11 Muslim men accused of violating their religion due to their alleged sexuality.