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Kidnappers abduct hundreds of schoolgirls in northwest Nigeria as security deteriorates

KANO — Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a number of schoolgirls, estimated to be more than 300, from the town of Jangebe in northwest Nigeria early on Friday, the second such kidnapping in little over a week.

“Unknown gunmen came shooting sporadically and took the girls away” in a midnight raid on the Jangebe Government Girls’ Secondary School, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, information commissioner for Zamfara state, told Reuters.

“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.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said 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, military and intelligence services did not respond to calls seeking comment.

A surge in armed militancy in the northwest has led to a breakdown of security in the north of Africa’s most populous country, where school kidnappings are becoming endemic.

The rise is fueled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for the children, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Nigerian government regularly denies such payouts.

Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.

In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in northwest Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.

Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in northeast Nigeria, all but one of who, a Christian, were released. A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention, with several prominent personalities calling for their release.

Most have been found or rescued by the army, or freed in negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, also for a hefty ransom.

About 100 are still missing, either remaining with Boko Haram or dead, security officials say.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the north by criminal gangs carrying out robberies and kidnappings. The country is also struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies in the northeast and communal violence over grazing rights in central states.

President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid worsening violence, with the armed forces fighting to reclaim northeastern towns overrun by insurgents.

(Reporting by Hamza Ibrahim in Kano, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi and Maiduguri Newsroom; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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