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Gunmen in Nigeria kidnapped 35 people from a university in northwest Zamfara state on Friday, the governor’s spokesperson said, the first major abduction involving students this year.

Armed gangs have plagued the northwest in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, looting and destroying communities and murdering civilians. Security forces’ attempts to halt their rampage have met with little success.

Mugira Yusuf, spokesperson for the Zamfara state governor, said 24 students, 10 workers and a security guard were seized by armed men in the early hours of Friday from the Federal University of Gusau.

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Kidnappings of students, once a notorious tactic by extremist militants to intimidate the population, have become a money-spinning industry for armed gangs demanding ransom payments.

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