Gunmen kidnapped 136 from Islamic school in Nigeria on Sunday, officials confirm

Armed gangs are terrorising inhabitants in northwest and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle, and taking people hostage.

Niger deputy governor Alh Ahmed Mohammed Ketso (left) gives a briefing on 2 June 2021 on the kidnapping of 136 schoolchildren. Picture: @NigerStateNG/Twitter

ABUJA - A state government in central Nigeria confirmed on Thursday that gunmen seized 136 children from an Islamic seminary at the weekend, the latest in a string of mass kidnappings in the country.

Criminal gangs have targeted schools in remote areas, where pupils live in dormitories with little security protection, before hauling their victims into nearby forests to negotiate ransoms. Police said gunmen attacked Tegina town in Niger state on Sunday, arriving on motorbikes and shooting indiscriminately.

Niger state police spokesperson Wasiu Abiodun said the criminals killed one resident, injured another before kidnapping an unknown number of children from the Salihu Tanko Islamic school.

Late on Wednesday, Niger state confirmed 136 students had been taken.

"A total of 136 students were abducted," deputy governor Alh Ahmed Mohammed Ketso said, in a video posted on Twitter.

President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security forces and intelligence agencies to step up efforts to rescue the children.

Buhari "condemned as unfortunate" the kidnapping of children, according to a statement from his spokesman Garba Shehu, and urged all those involved in the rescue operation to do their utmost in securing their immediate release.

Kesto said that security agencies were "doing their best but don't have enough logistics," adding that more help was needed to equip them to confront the criminals.

The attackers did release 11 of the pupils who were "too small and couldn't walk" very far, the authorities previously said.

Niger's deputy governor said the government did not pay ransoms, adding that security agencies were "being careful in the pursuit of bandits to avoid collateral damage."

"We are trying to negotiate to see how we can bring them back safely", Ketso said.

Relatives of the kidnapped schoolchildren appealed to the government to help free them.

"My appeal to the government is that they should try to protect our people first and our children first," Sa'idu Umar, whose child was among those abducted, told AFP.

"We are hoping that they are going to try harder to bring back our children successfully."

Mothers and other relatives crouched, weeping and waiting for the missing children outside the school on Tuesday.

Armed gangs are terrorising inhabitants in northwest and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle, and taking people hostage.

More than 700 children and students have already been kidnapped by gunmen for ransom since December.

Mass kidnappings in northwest and central Nigeria are complicating challenges facing Buhari's security forces, who are also battling a more than decade-long jihadist insurgency in the northeast of the country.

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