Nigeria's military said Wednesday it killed "several armed bandits" during a major aerial bombing operation sparked by a spate of kidnappings and deadly attacks in the country's northeast.
Gangs of gunmen known locally as bandits have abducted dozens of travellers -- and killed several -- over the last week along the highway that connects the capital Abuja to the northwestern city of Kaduna.
After receiving a tip-off, ground troops with aerial assistance launched the operation on a camp near the highway on Tuesday, the army said in a statement.
The statement said several bandits were "neutralised", without giving an exact number.
The air strikes began at dawn and targeted a cluster of huts believed to be home to the gang leader, nicknamed "Major", and his fighters, military spokesman John Enenche said in the statement.
Armed gangs, which sometimes number in the hundreds, have been terrorising rural areas of Nigeria's northwest for the last few years, rustling cattle and kidnapping people for ransom.
They have generally been motivated by money, but security experts warn the region's jihadist groups have been increasingly infiltrating their ranks.
At least 18 people were killed and more kidnapped by gunmen in attacks on villages in Kaduna state on Sunday and Monday, the state's internal security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said.
The deadliest attack was in Albasu village, where motorcycle-riding gunmen killed 11 residents and seriously injured five others.
Two people were also killed and many others kidnapped when gunmen barricaded the highway and opened fire on oncoming vehicles, Aruwan said.
The Ahmadu Bello University in the nearby city of Zaria confirmed that eight of its students were among those kidnapped on the highway.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari held a meeting with his security chiefs on Wednesday and "noted with concern the increasing cases of armed banditry," police minister Muhammad Dingyadi told reporters.
"The meeting agreed to be more proactive in dealing with the situation in a more decisive manner," Dingyadi added.