Hundreds of Nigerian pupils are missing, with many feared to have been abducted after gunmen attacked a secondary school in north-western Katsina state.
A large group of men armed with AK-47s overran the all-boys Government Science secondary school in Kankara on Friday night, shooting local security, said government officials.
The attack is suspected to have been carried out by “bandit gangs”. Katsina’s governor, Aminu Masari, said officials were combing through the nearby forests for 333 students, and contacting parents “to ascertain the actual number that has been kidnapped”.
He said: “We are still counting because more are coming out from the forest,” adding that no group had claimed responsibility.
Police engaged the attackers “in a gun duel which gave [some of] the students the opportunity to scale the fence of the school and run for safety,” said a police spokesman, Gambo Isah.
“The police, Nigerian army and Nigerian air force are working closely with the school authorities to ascertain the actual number of the missing and/or kidnapped students,” said Isah. “Search parties are working with a view to find or rescue the missing students.”
The attack sparked anger in the largely poor and rural region towards the country’s government, which is under mounting pressure following deepening insecurity. Distraught families demanded answers as parents converged on the school over the weekend begging authorities to save the boys.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, himself from Katsina and in the state on a private trip, released a statement condemning the attacks. “I strongly condemn the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children at the Science School,” he said. “Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured.”
Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu said the army and air force had located the bandits’ enclave and an operation was ongoing.
Yet there was growing anger from anguished parents and locals who witnessed attackers taking some of the students away, and who have been beset by bandit attacks for years.