By Bola Olajuwon / Lagos / Nigerian terror group Boko Haram on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of more than 300 high school students in Katsina State, in the country’s northwest.
Nigerian authorities are continuing operations to locate the pupils while anguish mounts for the parents.
“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet,” Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram said in an audio message published by HumAngle news.
According to the media outlet, the kidnapping is Boko Haram’s first major operation in northwestern Nigeria. The group is traditionally active in the restive northeast, from where it emerged.
Previously, Boko Haram’s activity in the northwest had been limited to attacks against security forces and small-scale kidnapping for ransom.
The latest mass kidnapping took place on Friday night at the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara.
MORE THAN 300 UNNACCOUNTED FOR
Armed men broke into the center and kidnapped the schoolboys, taking them away on motorcycles, Nigerian army spokesperson, John Eneche, said. He failed to specify how many motorcycles would have been needed to transport hundreds of hostages.
A total of 333 school students are still missing, local authorities in Katsina State said Monday, adding that some may have fled to nearby woods to hide. The school hosts 839 students.
Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, met with the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday in the city of Daura to discuss the situation, according to a statement from the presidential spokesman.
The spokesman said the abductors had made a ransom demand.
“We are making progress and the outlook is positive,” the governor told the press after the meeting.
However, Boko Haram sources quoted by HumAngle claimed they had not made demands nor set any conditions for freeing the students.
Authorities first blamed the kidnapping on armed bandits active in the region.
Distraught parents are urging authorities to boost rescue efforts as much as possible.
Hajia Faiza Kankara, the mother of a missing child, told Efe: “My son, Usman Tahir (…) is still missing. One of the students who returned Sunday night said they were 520; that includes two that were killed and himself, who escaped.”
Alhaji Muntari Abdulkadir, the father of a missing student, said one of his children had been returned.
“I have seen one of my children, Abdullahi, but Muhammad (…) is yet to return.
“I got wind of the abduction on Friday night but couldn’t go to the school area because of the gunshots that were being heard all over town.”
A GRISLY REMINDER OF CHIBOK
The hashtag #BringBackOurBoys began to spread on Nigerian social media, coining the slogan Bring Back Our Girls, which was used following Boko Haram’s mass kidnap of 276 girls from a school in Chibok, northwestern Nigeria, in 2014.
The whereabouts of 112 of the Chibok schoolgirls remain unknown to this day.
Nifemi Onifade, Bring Back Our Girls spokesman, told Efe: “Our Chibok Girls continue to represent many others who face similar tragedies across Nigeria, and so, we strongly urge the government to take the necessary actions that will deliver the only results that are acceptable — ensuring that every student is accounted for and safe.
“The primary responsibility of the Nigerian Government is the protection of lives and properties as enshrined in the constitution. Where such kidnappings occur, it is as a result of the failure of the government.”
Boko Haram was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, by spiritual leader Mohamed Yusuf.
Over time the group began to carry out attacks against state agents such as police. Yusuf was killed in 2009 and the group became further radicalized and tied to religious extremism.
The group’s goal is to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, a country that is predominantly Muslim in the north and Christian in the south.
More than 27,000 civilians have been killed in the violence created by the conflict, according to the United Nations and some two million have been displaced. (December 15, 2020, EFE-EPA / PracticaEspañol)
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