image copyrightAFPimage captionA spokesman says the pilot survived by ejecting himself and hiding with local residents (archive photo dated 2020)

A plane hunting kidnappers in northern Nigeria has been shot down by criminal gangs, the military says.

A spokesman for the Nigerian Air Force said the Alpha Jet had completed a successful raid when it came under intense fire on Sunday.

He said the pilot, Flight Lt Abayomi Dairo, ejected and used "survival instincts" to avoid capture and find shelter with local residents.

The attack happened on the border of Zamfara and Kaduna states.

Armed gangs – referred to locally as "bandits" – have been blamed for a spate of recent kidnappings in this part of north-western Nigeria.

Students and schoolchildren have been especially targeted – more than 1,000 have been kidnapped since December. Most have since been freed, reportedly after ransoms were paid, but some have been killed.

In recent days, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the military to do all it takes to flush out criminal elements in the states of Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna.

The Nigerian Air Force said it had mounted intensive day and night air operations against the bandits and their hideouts, especially in these three states, in collaboration with ground forces. It was in one of the operations that the fighter jet was brought down on Sunday.

"Through these intensive air operations, hundreds of bandits have been neutralised and several of their hideouts destroyed," the Nigerian Air Force said in a statement.

While there have been several military plane crashes this year, this is the first reported case of armed gangs downing one.

There was shock in May in Nigeria when the Army chief, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, was killed in a plane crash alongside 10 other officers.

Back in April another Alpha Jet crashed in Borno state – one of the areas where Boko Haram militants are most active. Reports that it was shot down by the jihadists have been denied by the military.

Before that in February, a military aircraft in Abuja that was bound for Niger state to search for kidnapped schoolchildren there crashed – killing all seven people on board.

The country has bought 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the US at a cost of $496m (£350m) – and is set to receive the first six this month.

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media captionNigeria child abduction: Kidnappers demand millions for a child's life