Several hundred girls are missing after a raid by suspected armed bandits on a school hostel in Zamfara, northwest Nigeria, police said Friday, in what would be the latest mass kidnapping in the troubled region.
“The Zamfara State Police Command in collaboration with the military have commenced a joint search and rescue operation with a view to rescuing the 317 students kidnapped by the armed bandits in Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe,” police said in a statement.
Heavily armed criminal gangs in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for the children, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The government regularly denies such payouts.
Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, said that gunmen came firing sporadically in the late-night raid on the school. “Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.
School abductions were once the domain of northeastern Islamist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants in Nigeria’s northwest.
A parent told AFP he had received a call about the incident.
“I’m on my way to Jangebe. I received a call that the school was invaded by bandits who took away schoolgirls. I have two daughters in the school,” said Sadi Kawaye.
Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.
More than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in December in Kankara, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, while he was visiting the region.