Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped 317 schoolgirls in the northwest Nigerian state of Zamfara, police said in a statement on Friday, the second such kidnapping in little over a week.
Earlier, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, information commissioner for Zamfara state, told Reuters news agency that “unknown gunmen … took the girls away” in a midnight raid on the Jangebe Government Girls’ Secondary School.
“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” Anka said, adding that security forces were hunting through the area.
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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also confirmed, saying more than 300 girls were estimated to have been abducted.
“We are angered and saddened and by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Nigeria representative.
Police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement that “the Zamfara State Police Command in collaboration with the military have commenced a joint search and rescue operations with a view to rescuing the 317 students kidnapped by the armed bandits in Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe”.
A parent said two of his daughters were among the missing girls.
“Two of my daughters aged 10 and 13 are among the about 300 girls the school authorities told us are missing,” parent Nasiru Abdullahi told DPA news agency via telephone.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reporting from Minna in Niger state said: “[According to local people] the gunmen arrived shortly midnight and operated for hours in this all-girls school in Zamfar state.”
“This is one of the states that is continuously being attacked by these gun-men, abductions for ransom and raiding for villages … this is practically one of the major things that people in the north of the country are facing on a daily bases,” he added.
The charity Save the Children said it was “horrified” about the news of the abductions.
“It is unacceptable that attacks on schools and students has become a recurring scenario in Northern Nigeria,” said Mercy Gichuhi, Save the Children’s Nigeria director.
“These attack … puts (the children) at risk of never returning to school, as they or their parents think it’s too dangerous.”
Amnesty International Nigeria said the abductions was “a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.
“Nigerian authorities must take all measures to return them to safety, along with all children currently under the custody of armed groups,” the rights group said on Twitter.
This is the second such kidnapping in a little more than a week in Nigeria’s north, which has seen a surge in activity by armed groups leading to a widespread and worsening breakdown of security.
Last week, unidentified attackers killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.
More than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in December in Kankara, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, while he was visiting the region.
The boys were later released after negotiations with government officials but the incident triggered global outrage.