A Boko Haram attack on a secondary school in Nigeria’s Yobe state may have resulted in the kidnapping of 94 girls, recalling the mass abduction of nearly 300 by the Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in 2014.
Local officials deny that the group succeeded in abducting the girls, claiming they managed to flee the building before Boko Haram terrorists arrived.
Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper reported on Wednesday that Boko Haram attacked Dapchi’s Government Girls Secondary School on Monday night and, in response, many of the students appear to have fled into nearby bushes. After taking a roll call of the entire student body on Tuesday, the Trust claims school officials found that 94 out of 704 girls remain missing.
An unnamed source with knowledge of the situation told the newspaper that they have not confirmed whether those 94 girls are in Boko Haram custody “because the insurgents went into the students’ hostel, and many of these students scaled the fence and escaped into the bushes. No one can tell if they are abducted or not.” The students live on the school campus, as is typical of many schools in the country. Parents began arriving early Tuesday to demand to know the whereabouts of their children.
“We are calling on parents to help the school update its list by reporting immediately their children arrived home safely,” the unnamed school official said.
Yobe Police Commissioner Abdulmaliki Sumonu told reporters Tuesday that none of the girls had been kidnapped but that Boko Haram terrorists had abducted three boys.
“We are still collecting the details on the attack, census of the girls and the general public,” Sumonu said on Tuesday. It is not clear whether he provided his remarks before or after the officials’ school headcount.
A local militia member supported this claim in remarks to Vanguard on Tuesday. “Obviously the attack was meant to abduct school girls but luckily they found none of the girls as they were taken away by teachers before they arrived,” the unnamed militia fighter claimed.
The students who escaped the attack, however, say that they believe the terrorists took some of their classmates away. One girl, identified as Aishatu Abdullahi, told Nigeria’s Premium Times that she saw girls “being forced away by the armed gunmen.”
“They were shooting guns and everyone was confused; then we started running helter skelter but they were able to. We saw some people pushing some of the students to enter their vehicles,” she said via phone in her native Hausa language, the Times reports. “There were no soldiers at the time of the invasion. It was later after the principal placed a call that some soldiers came and then we began to see [a] helicopter hovering around the village.”
”The school has given us one week to go home for a break; but in all honesty, I am not willing to come back here because we are scared of what could happen to us in the future,” she concluded.
The Daily Trust noted that several of the students to whom reporters spoke echoed that sentiment, refusing to go back to school.
Parents and loved ones of the missing girls have expressed panic. One mother whose daughter is missing told the Daily Trust, “We have no idea where she’s now, her sister said they were at the hall when the insurgents struck, and it was the last time she saw her.”
Another mother lamented, “I forced her to go back to school against her wish, unknown to me that this calamity is awaiting her here. My daughter always complained that there was no security in the school.”
In addition to attacking the school, seeking to kidnap girls to use as brides, sex slaves, cooks, or suicide bombers, Boko Haram terrorists reportedly raided several businesses and hoarded food and other supplies.
On Wednesday, following police denials that the girls had been abducted, parents of the missing girls surrounded the school, demanding answers.
“Our girls have been missing for two days and we don’t know their whereabouts,” the uncle of one of the girls, Abubakar Shehu, told the Agence France-Presse. “Although we were told they had run to some villages, we have been to all these villages mentioned without any luck. We are beginning to harbour fears the worst might have happened.”
“We still don’t know how many of our daughters were recovered and how many are still missing,” mother Inuwa Mohammed said. “We have been hearing many numbers, between 67 and 94.”
Boko Haram terrorists have targeted young women and girls for years to abduct and turn into jihadi brides. The group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” began its jihadist pursuits targeting schools and rose to international fame after the mass abduction of nearly 300 girls from Chibok, Borno state, in 2014. More than 100 of the girls kidnapped from that school remain in Boko Haram captivity, periodically surfacing in jihadi propaganda videos claiming they have committed to the terrorist group’s cause and have become mothers and fighters. In the latest such video, released in January, one girl wearing niqab said, “This is a message to our parents in Nigeria, they should repent and bow to Boko Haram, we won’t come back.”
Boko Haram also uses children, particularly girls, as suicide bombers. That tactic became increasingly popular throughout 2017; estimates suggest that the group killed 135 children in this way throughout that year.