Nigerian troops have rescued ten hostages among dozens of people kidnapped from a university in northwestern Zamfara state after two days of fighting, military and community sources told AFP.
Gunmen from criminal "bandit" gangs abducted more than 30 people on Friday, including at least 24 female students, in a raid around a university outside Gusau, the Zamfara state capital.
The raid was the first mass kidnapping at a college since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came to power in May, promising to tackle insecurity in Nigeria, where kidnap-for-ransom gangs have repeatedly hit schools.
Bandits broke into three female hostels on the edge of the university in Sabon Gida village.
They also seized two male neighbours before storming the university campus and abducting nine welders working there, residents and a military officer told AFP on Saturday.
Soldiers deployed in the village and pursued the attackers, freeing six of the female students while one of the welders escaped in the fighting, the sources said.
On Monday, troops combing the forest near the town of Tsafe ambushed the kidnappers in Babban Kauye following reports the bandits were heading towards the village with the hostages, the sources said.
All the sources asked not to be identified as they were not authorised to speak about the rescue operation.
Operation still on
Zamfara state officials and police rarely confirm the numbers of kidnap victims after attacks.
"The soldiers were able to rescue 10 of the abductees, including seven female students, in an exchange of fire with the terrorists who were forced to abandon some of the hostages," a military officer told AFP.
"The operation to rescue all the hostages is on and soldiers are pursuing the terrorists," the officer said.
A staff member of the university also confirmed the rescue of the 10 hostages.
A community leader who saw the 10 rescued captives told AFP their release raised hope that the rest would be freed.
Zamfara is one of several states in the northwestern and central Nigeria where bandit gangs operate, raiding villages, killing and abducting residents as well as burning and lotting homes.
The gangs maintain camps in a huge forest straddling Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.
In February 2021, bandits raided a female boarding school in the town of Jangebe in Zamfara, kidnapping more than 300 students before they were freed days later.