LAGOS, NIGERIA (AP) — Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, police said, the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.
Police and the military have begun joint operations to rescue the girls after the attack at the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town, according to a police spokesman in Zamfara state, Mohammed Shehu, who confirmed the number abducted.
One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, told The Associated Press that his daughters, aged 10 and 13, are among the missing.
“It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school they were unable to protect the girls,” he said. “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. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and to push for the release of their members from jail.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said on Friday the government’s primary objective is to get all the school hostages returned safe, alive and unharmed.
“We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” he said. “Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government.
“They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness, or a sign of fear or irresolution.” He called on state governments to review their policy of making payments, in money or vehicles, to bandits.
“Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences,” Buhari said. He also said state and local governments must play their part by being proactive in improving security in and around schools.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the abductions and called for the girls’ “immediate and unconditional release” and safe return to their families, calling attacks on schools a grave violation of human rights and the rights of children, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.