Nigerian security forces have rescued nearly 200 kidnap victims during raids on camps of criminal gangs in dense forests in the country's northwest, police said.
Heavily armed criminal gangs known locally as bandits have plagued northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages and abducting for ransom.
The rescued victims -- 187 men, women and children -- were freed in Zamfara State, where they had been kidnapped in separate bandit attacks, police said late Thursday.
Police released photographs showing dozens of men, women and children sitting huddled on the ground after they were freed on Thursday.
"The abducted victims who spent many weeks in captivity were unconditionally rescued following extensive search and rescue operations that lasted for hours," Zamfara State police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement.
The rescue was part of a weeks-long broader military operation in Zamfara and other northwestern states that has included telecoms blackouts to disrupt bandit communications.
Authorities suspended telecommunications last month in Zamfara, where many of the attacks take place, and then in parts of Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna states.
The gangs, who maintain camps hidden in forests straddling the four states, have been increasingly targeting schools where they kidnap students for ransom.
Hundreds of schoolchildren have been abducted in mass kidnappings since December. Most have been freed or released after ransoms were paid but dozens are still being held.