More than 300 schoolgirls have been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen who are believed to be holding some of them in a forest in wartorn northwest Nigeria.
It was the second kidnapping in little over a week in a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs who usually ask for a ransom. But there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
At least 42 people, including 27 students, who were kidnapped last week in Kagara, in neighbouring Niger state, are yet to be released.
The latest raid resembles the 2014 kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok by Islamist militants Boko Haram which brought global attention to the scourge of raids on schools in Nigeria but the most recent attacks are suspected to be the work of criminal gangs
Police in Zamfara state said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “armed bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.
“There’s information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracing and exercising caution and care,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.
He did not say whether those possibly moved to the forest included all of them.
Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, told Reuters the assailants stormed in firing sporadically during the 1 am raid.
“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.
They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces. Friday’s was the third such incident since December.
The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalysing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government denies making such payouts.
Additional reporting by Reuters