Hundreds of students kidnapped in northwest Nigeria: what we know

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Abuja | Fright spreads to Nigeria after the kidnapping of hundreds of students on Friday by unidentified gunmen in the north of the country, and still wanted by government forces. Here is what we know.

At least 333 teenagers are still missing after the attack on Katsina State School for Boys, authorities said.

On Monday, the hashtag BringBackOurboys (“bring back our boys”) was one of the most shared on Nigerian social networks, recalling the one used in 2014, when 276 teenage girls from Chibok were kidnapped in the North East, by the jihadist group Boko Haram.

What happened ?

Over a hundred armed men on motorcycles attacked this rural school located in the town of Kankara during the night from Friday to Saturday. Hundreds of teenagers fled into the bush to hide there.

Some managed to escape, but others were caught up, separated into several groups and taken away by the attackers, according to residents.

“There were 839 students, 333 are missing,” Katsina state governor Aminu Bello Masari said on Sunday.

Who carried out this attack?

Armed gangs have been sowing terror for several years in rural areas of central and northwestern Nigeria, engaging in large-scale cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom.

The violence has killed more than 8,000 people since 2011, and forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes, according to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank published in May.

The members of these groups, whose numbers are vague, but whose attacks are often carried out by hundreds of heavily armed men, are called “bandits” by the authorities and the inhabitants.

Those responsible for the attack on Friday probably came from one of these criminal groups, rather than one of the jihadist groups present in Nigeria, active mainly in the Northeast, such as Boko Haram, say analysts interviewed by AFP .

Friday’s modus operandi is “more like that of a criminal group,” Nnamdi Obasi, researcher for the ICG, told AFP.

These groups act a priori without ideological motivation, but many experts have warned against their rapprochement with jihadist groups, especially since some have pledged allegiance this year to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

A jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda, named Ansaru, is also present in this region.

What motivations?

It is highly likely that the motive is to obtain a ransom, analysts said, pointing out that kidnappings are frequent in this region, where extreme poverty is rife and where the state has little control.

In addition, “most of the inhabitants are farmers or herders faced with climate change and in ever-increasing competition for resources”, insists Idayat Hassan, director of the CDD West Africa think tank.

But there could be other explanations.

The attackers “could act to obtain concessions from the government,” Mr. Obasi added. Kidnapped students could be used as bargaining chips to stop military operations targeting them, or even against the release of prisoners.

What response from the government?

President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and ordered the strengthening of security in all schools. In Katsina State, schools have closed.

The army claimed to have located “the hideout of the bandits”, adding that a military operation was underway.

“Research in the forests and villages has been launched, and parents are contacted for more information on the children” missing, according to the presidency.

The people of the region live in fear of attacks, and demand more security. But the army has already been engaged for more than ten years in the fight against jihadist groups in the North-East.

For Idayat Hassan, the government should “see beyond the only military option” to solve the problem, by “tackling the root causes of unemployment and injustice”.

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