More than 30 people have been abducted and two killed by armed bandits in several attacks on a highway in northern Nigeria's Kaduna state, local officials said Saturday.
The attacks are the latest in a spate of kidnappings for ransom in the Birnin Gwari district over the last two months.
"Around 6.25 pm (1725 GMT) on Friday, 22 people were kidnapped by armed bandits along Birnin Gwari highway, between Udawa and Labi villages", said Isah Muhammad Galadima, spokesman for local traditional ruler the Amir of Birnin Gwari.
"The bandits, who carried heavy weapons on motorbikes, intercepted seven vehicles and kidnapped everybody, even a young mother with her baby," Galadima told AFP.
"Earlier on Friday, another 10 people were also kidnapped along this highway by the armed bandits."
He added that the bandits had contacted the husband of the kidnapped young mother and asked him to pay a ransom for his wife and baby's release.
Two local officials confirmed that "at least 30 people" were abducted on the highway, adding that two people were also killed.
"Two passengers were killed and six others were injured from gunshots. The injured are now in hospital in Udawa village," said Danladi Haruna, head of the National Union of Road Transport Workers' Birnin Gwari branch.
Yusuf Abdullahi Udawa, spokesman for the union's Udawa branch, said that "when the vehicles stopped (the bandits) took away 30 passengers that were not affected by the shootings".
"The new strategy the gunmen employ is to open fire on on-coming vehicles, forcing them to stop or veer off the road and crash in the bush," he said.
"There are few policemen manning few checkpoints on the highway. They just flee when heavily armed gangs open fire instead of facing them."
In early May, about 100 people were abducted in just two days on another road in the Birnin Gwari region, where kidnappings have reached unprecedented levels.
The gangs, who roam on motorcycles on the hunt for victims, are known to operate in northern Kaduna and Zamfara state.
Kidnapping for ransom used to be a phenomenon isolated to oil-rich southern Nigeria. But it has spread further north and become lucrative due to economic hardship.
Abductees are often released within days if the ransom is paid -- if not, they are killed, according to security sources.