Gunmen kidnapped 317 girls from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, police said in a statement Friday, the latest in a rising tide of high-school abductions across Africa’s most populous nation, where kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative industry.

Armed militants broke into the Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara state at around 1 a.m. Friday and packed schoolgirls onto vehicles or walked them toward the nearby Rugu forest, which spreads over three states and hundreds of miles. By morning, community leaders were still working to tally the number of people missing.

Ahmad Abdullahi, a parent, said that his daughter had escaped, but that five of his nieces, between 14 and 17 years old, were among the missing.

The news marks the second such abduction in a little over a week in Nigeria’s northwest, where a surge in armed militancy has led to a worsening breakdown of security.

Dozens of schoolboys and staff are still missing after being kidnapped from another school, the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state on Feb. 17. Government officials have said they are negotiating with the kidnappers to bring the victims home.

An armored personnel carrier is stationed at the Government Science College in Kagara, after gunmen kidnapped dozens of pupils and staff.



Photo:

kola sulaimon/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

There was no immediate comment from the federal government and no claim of responsibility. Analysts said the culprits were likely one of the heavily armed bandit groups that have become increasingly powerful across swaths of Nigeria’s northwest, and not the jihadist groups based in the northeast.

“Kidnapping for ransom is now the most thriving industry in Nigeria,” said Bulama Bukarti, a terrorism analyst and columnist with the Daily Trust, northern Nigeria’s most popular newspaper.

Nigerian officials are split between those who favor dialogue with the criminal groups seizing the schoolchildren and those who favor a zero tolerance approach.

More than 300 schoolboys were received by government officials in Nigeria after being released by their captors. Jihadist group Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for kidnapping them. (Originally Published Dec. 18, 2020)

President

Muhammadu Buhari

has quietly dropped his claim that the country’s insurgencies are technically defeated and conceded that the nation is in “a state of emergency.” The country, which has one of Africa’s strongest armies and is a strong U.S. counterterrorism ally, is struggling to contain multiple threats: a 10-year jihadist rebellion, and swelling banditry and lawlessness that have metastasized into a conflict of overlapping militant groups.

After months of criticism over rising insecurity across the country’s northern states, Mr. Buhari reluctantly agreed to reshuffle his military chiefs in January.

Shehu Sani, a former senator who studied in the town of Kagara as a boy, said the groups were targeting children because they yield the highest ransom payment.

“We are stuck in the most vicious cycle,” he said. “We need help to acquire new technologies to beat this—and to find the children these people have taken.”

Write to Joe Parkinson at [email protected]

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