Police and army mobilise after hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls taken in mass abduction
Unidentified gunmen have seized more than 300 schoolgirls in a night-time raid on a school in north-west Nigeria and are believed to be holding some of them in a nearby forest.
The gunmen stormed into the school at approximately 1:00am
A resident of the area said they attacked a nearby military camp at the same time
It’s the third such incident in Nigeria since December last year
It was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Police in Zamfara state said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “armed bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe early on Friday (local time).
“There’s information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracing and exercising caution and care,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.
He did not say whether those possibly moved to the forest included all of them.
Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, said the assailants stormed in about 1:00am (local time) firing sporadically.
“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.
‘We are only hoping on divine intervention’
Nasiru Abdullahi said his daughters, aged 10 and 13, were among the missing.
“At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention.”
Resident Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from interfering while the gunmen spent several hours at the school.
Nigeria’s UNICEF representative, Peter Hawkins, called for the children’s immediate release.
“We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” Mr Hawkins said
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, noted the recent abductions and tweeted: “Strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide & keep schools safe.”
Amnesty International also condemned the “appalling attack”, warning in a statement that “the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed”.
Teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.
Worsening violence prompts military shakeup
School kidnappings were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants in the north-west whose agenda is unclear.
They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces.
Friday’s was the third such incident since December.
The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalysing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government denies making such payouts.
President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid the worsening violence.
Armed forces in the north-east are fighting to reclaim towns overrun by insurgents.
Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger.
The hostages are yet to be released.
In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in north-west Katsina state.
They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.
Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom — the only Christian — were released.
A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.
Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention.
Many have been found or rescued by the army, or freed in negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, also for a hefty ransom, according to sources.
But 100 are still missing, either remaining with Boko Haram or dead, security officials say.