Bandit fire brings down Nigeria air force jet, pilot survives

ABUJA, July 19 (Reuters) - Intense fire from bandits caused a Nigerian attack jet to crash in northwestern Zamfara State, but the pilot survived by ejecting from the aircraft, the Nigerian air force said on Monday.

Zamfara and neighbouring Kaduna are among the states worst-affected by a surge in criminality including mass abductions of schoolchildren and armed robberies, often carried out by large gangs of outlaws, locally known as bandits, who operate from remote hideouts.

The air force said the crash occurred on Sunday as the Alpha jet, a light attack aircraft, was returning to base from a mission on the Zamfara-Kaduna border.

The jet "came under intense enemy fire which led to its crash," an air force statement said, but pilot Abayomi Dairo succesfully ejected, evaded several bandit hideouts and eventually made his way to an army unit under cover of darkness.

The government is increasingly turning to the air force to counter banditry; the air force said that over the past two weeks, flights daily and nightly over Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states had "neutralised" hundreds of bandits.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the information.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh, writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Libby George and William Maclean

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