Scores of children abducted from Islamic seminary in Nigeria

·3-min read

Gunmen kidnapped scores of children from an Islamic seminary in central Nigeria, officials said, the latest mass abduction to hit Africa's most populous nation.

Some 200 children were at the school in Niger state on Sunday during the attack, the local government tweeted, adding "an unconfirmed number" had been taken.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday ordered the security and intelligence forces "to expedite efforts towards the recovery of the 200 children", his office said.

He described "as unfortunate, the kidnapping of children from schools" and urged all those "involved in the rescue operation to do their utmost in securing their immediate release".

The abduction came a day after 14 students from a university in northwestern Nigeria were freed after 40 days in captivity, one of a series of kidnappings to target colleges and schools since December.

Niger state police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun said the attackers had arrived on motorbikes and started shooting indiscriminately, killing one resident and injuring another, before kidnapping the children from the Salihu Tanko Islamic school.

One of the school's officials, who asked not to be named, said the attackers initially took more than 100 children "but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old".

The state government, in a series of tweets, said the attackers had released 11 of the pupils who were "too small and couldn't walk" very far.

In a later Twitter thread, the state added the governor Sani Bello had directed "security agencies to bring back (the) children as soon as possible".

- 'Bandits' -

The kidnappings in northwest and central Nigeria are complicating challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari's security forces, who are battling a more than decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast.

Armed gangs, known locally as bandits, are terrorising inhabitants in northwest and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle, and taking people hostage for ransom.

Since December 2020, before the attack on Sunday, 730 children and students had been kidnapped.

Gangs have often targeted schools in remote areas, where pupils live in dormitories with little security protection, before taking their victims deep into nearby forests to negotiate.

On April 20, gunmen stormed Greenfield University in northwestern Nigeria and kidnapped around 20 students, killing a member of the school's staff in the attack.

Five students were executed a few days later to force families and the government to pay a ransom.

Fourteen were released on Saturday.

- 'Kidnappings must stop' -

Nigeria has been plagued by kidnappings for years, with criminals largely targeting the wealthy and prominent. But more recently, the poor have also become victims.

Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters partially blocked a motorway into the capital Abuja after a spate of kidnappings in the area.

The criminal gangs maintain camps in the Rugu forest which straddles northern and central Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.

Their motives have been financial with no ideological leanings, but there is growing concern they are being infiltrated by jihadists from the northeast waging a 12-year insurrection to establish an Islamic state.

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