MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Churchmilitant.com) - The second and largest mass abduction of school-aged children in Nigeria's history has the country's political leadership and law enforcement reeling.
More than 330 boys were forcibly taken from the grounds of their school on Friday night in the northern state of Katsina in Nigeria. The jihadist group Boko Haram is claiming responsibility. The reason given: "un-Islamic practices."
According to a short audio message shared with Nigerian media, a man claiming to be a leader of the terrorist group claimed responsibility.
"I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina," said the man.
The message contended that Boko Haram targeted a school of 800 students because of the terror group's concern with stopping "Western" education in northern Nigeria. The jihadist group, which seeks to introduce Sharia law, takes great offense at what it calls the Western model of education.
A video of one of the captives was released, asking in various languages for help. In the background, hundreds of boys are seen crying out in support of the message.
Aminu Masari, the governor of the region of Katsina, said security agencies "deployed for rescue operations have ... informed us that they have located their position."
Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, is determined to solve the crime and resolve the issue.
"The kidnappers had made contact, and discussions were already on pertaining to the safety and return" of the children, announced Shehu.
One student who escaped the captors told of his experience.
"They said they would kill whoever tried to flee, but I positioned myself near the back and waited for a chance to run," he said, sitting alongside his father in the town of Kankara. "Hundreds of my fellow pupils are still in captivity somewhere in the forest."
The 17-year-old, Usama Male, said the attack occurred just after 10 p.m. Friday. Countless men in military fatigues shooting into the air poured onto the school campus, ordering the entire student body to march into the nearby forest.
After almost two days of walking with no food and little water, Male considers himself very lucky to have been able to escape.
Bulama Bukarti, an analyst at the London-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, notes the gruesome pattern in northern Nigeria.
"Only in Nigeria have we seen militants walk into a high school and abduct the whole student body," he said. "The security situation across the north is rapidly deteriorating. An attack on Nigeria's children is an attack on the country's future."
On Monday, national coordinators of the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development, Engr. Zana Goni and Hajiya Mario Bichi, disclosed a statement that in part admits powerlessness in the face of ongoing terrorism.
The latest attack on Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State, where over 333 children are reportedly missing, has further confirmed our position that our region is now at the mercy of terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements.
And as a result of this, we strongly believe that time has come for our president to bring in fresh hope and clear directions on how best the country will strategize to overcome the present insecurity situation in the country in general.
Samuel Ortom, governor of neighboring state Benue, said that if hundreds of students could be abducted in Katsina, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, no place is safe. Ortom immediately announced the closure of boarding schools in his state.
More than 600 boys attend the government secondary school focusing on science. Many were able to escape during gunfire between the rebels and police after being led into the forest.
In February 2014, 59 boys were killed during a Boko Haram attack at the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in the state of Yobe. In April of the same year, more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted from their dormitories at a government secondary school in northeastern Borno State. From that attack, around 100 girls are still missing.
Kidnappings have been increasing in the region. Amnesty International says that more than 1,100 people were killed in the first six months of 2020 in violence related to attacks by bandits.