An estimated 668 students are missing after gunmen attacked a secondary school over the weekend in northern Nigeria’s Katsina state, the Daily Trust reported Monday.
A large number of unidentified gunmen ambushed the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara late Friday night in a possible kidnap-for-ransom attempt. The militants arrived at the school on motorcycles, according to local police.
Katsina State Gov. Aminu Bello Masari said Sunday that just 333 students were missing following the incident. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust said it studied the school register and interviewed school sources to determine that at least 668 students were still unaccounted for as of Monday.
The Nigerian military deployed troops and helicopters to the Katsina area shortly after Friday’s attack to search for the students. This prompted the kidnappers to demand Monday that the Nigerian Army call off its ongoing search of nearby forests and neighboring villages.
“The apparent kidnappers are making a demand via a teacher at [the] school,” Abdu Labaran, the director-general of media for the Katsina state governor’s office, said Monday, according to CNN.
“The abductors of the Kankara students have contacted a teacher and asked him to tell the government to stop the helicopter surveillance. They have not asked for ransom,” he revealed.
Labaran claimed “at least 446 students had been handed over to their parents” as of Monday, but that authorities “have been unable to reach scores of families to confirm the safety of students because of bad phone connectivity.”
The Daily Trust spoke with parents of the missing students Monday who said they “have called on the authorities to intensify efforts at ensuring that their children are rescued as soon as possible.”
“It is really disturbing. These are young boys aged 12 to 16, subjected to this terrible condition. We cannot eat or sleep well because we don’t know their condition of health or even their whereabouts,” one parent named Alhaji Isma’l Kafur told the newspaper.
“My son is 14 years old and he is in SS1 [a senior class at the school]. From our home town, Kafur, there are other four boys [sic] who are still missing,” Kafur said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the abductions Sunday, calling for the students’ “immediate and unconditional release.”
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said the incident “is a grim reminder” that Northern Nigeria remains a hotbed for child abductions “and widespread grave violations of children’s rights.”
Nigerian authorities on Monday said the motive for the attack remains unclear but added that the region “has seen kidnappings for ransom attacks in the past,” according to CNN.
The Nigerian jihadi terror group Boko Haram abducted at least 276 schoolgirls from a government school dormitory in Chibok in 2014; most of the girls remain missing today. Chibok is located in the Boko Haram stronghold of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria.