KANO, Nigeria — Gunmen seized more than 300 girls in a nighttime raid on a school in northwest Nigeria on Friday and are believed to be holding some of them in a forest, police said.
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.
“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, told Reuters the assailants stormed in firing sporadically during the 1 a.m. raid.
“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.
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 northwest 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.
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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.
Parents had no faith in authorities to return their kidnapped girls, said Mohammed Usman Jangebe, the father of one abductee, by phone.
“We are going to rescue our children, since the government isn’t ready to give them protection,” he said.
“All of us that have had our children abducted have agreed to follow them into to the forest. We will not listen to anyone now until we rescue our children,” he added.