Gunmen from a criminal gang have kidnapped 36 people after attacking several villages and two churches in northwest Nigeria, a local government official said Monday.
Local security commissioner Samuel Aruwan told AFP that gunmen had snatched three dozen people on Sunday, the latest in a series of mass abductions to hit the region.
Armed groups known locally as bandits are ravaging parts of northwest Nigeria with raids and kidnappings. This latest incident came two weeks after gunmen killed 40 people at a church in the usually safer southwest.
In Sunday's attack, Aruwan said the gunmen had ransacked villages before storming the Maranatha Baptist Church and St Moses Catholic Church in Rubu in the Kajuru area of Kaduna state.
Three people were also killed in the raid, he said.
"We have established 36 people were kidnapped by the bandits, who attacked the villages in Kajuru local government on Sunday," Aruwan said.
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"Yesterday, they released two of the hostages, including a community chief. Thirty four people are now in the custody of the bandits."
In an earlier statement his office said gunmen had stormed the villages on motorbikes and also looted shops.
A wave of violence
No group has so far claimed the June 5 massacre at a church in southwest Ondo State, but the government said it suspected the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group was behind the violence.
ISWAP operates mostly in the northeast of the country, where it is part of a 12-year long jihadist insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced 2.2 million more.
Security will be a major issue in next year's presidential election to replace President Muahammadu Buhari who steps down after two terms in office.
The federal government has officially characterised bandit gangs as terrorists to allow the military more flexibility. But the challenge is massive, especially in vast rural areas with scarce state presence.
Attacks have also become more brazen. Earlier this year, gunmen blew up the railway tracks to stop a train travelling from the capital Abuja to Kaduna, kidnapping dozens of passengers for ransom.
Schools have also been targeted, with around 1,500 pupils seized last year in 20 mass kidnappings for ransom, according to UNICEF earlier this year.
Although most of those hostages were released after negotiations, some are still being held in the bandits' forest hideouts, which stretch across the northwest.
A week ago, gunmen kidnapped 30 wedding guests in northwest Sokoto state after one of their buses broke down on the way home to another neighbouring state.
While kidnap gangs are motivated by financial gain and have no known ideological affiliation, security sources and experts are worried about increasing cooperation between bandits and jihadists groups.