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Parents plea for return of 150 abducted students

DOZENS of distraught parents gathered at the Bethel High School in northwestern Nigeria, some weeping and crying out, standing in groups awaiting news about the 150 students who were kidnapped by armed men. Discarded sandals lay strewn nearby. Dormitories containing metal bunk beds and cupboards were deserted.

“May God take away their tears and the suffering that they will face in the hands of the kidnappers,” said a woman pointing at a hole in the school’s perimeter where the attackers entered.

His voice breaking, parent John Evans said he had recently told his daughter that God would protect her while she studied at the school.

“Just this morning at about 6, I received a phone call that they have entered the school…kidnappers, that all our children are packed (taken), including my daughter,” he said. “We rushed down here, we confirmed that they are all packed.”

Police said gunmen shooting wildly attacked overnight and overpowered the school’s security guards, taking an unspecified number of students into a nearby forest. A police statement said 26 people including a female teacher had been rescued.

Reverend John Hayab, a founder of the school, told Reuters about 25 students had managed to escape while the school’s other students remained missing.

Roughly 180 students attended the school and were in the process of sitting exams, according to Hayab, whose 17-year-old son escaped, and parent, Hassana Markus, whose daughter was among those missing.

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Local residents who declined to be identified told Reuters that security officials had cordoned off the school after the attack, which took place between 11 pm on Sunday and 4 am on Monday morning.

Armed men, known locally as bandits, have made an industry of kidnapping students for ransom in northwest Nigeria, with Kaduna state particularly hard hit. They have taken nearly 1,000 people from schools since December last year, more than 150 of whom remain missing.

Kidnappers have also targeted roads, private residents and even hospitals; in the early morning hours of Sunday, gunmen abducted six people including a one-year-old child from a hospital in Kaduna state.

In February, President Muhammadu Buhari urged state governments “to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles,” warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously. The unrest has become a political problem for Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who has faced mounting criticism over prominent attacks by the gangs.

Islamist groups Boko Haram first carried out such kidnappings in 2014 in the northeast, but armed men, known locally as bandits, have recently adopted similar tactics.

They have taken around 1,000 people from schools since December.

Here are details of other attacks:

* Gunmen kidnapped 94 students and eight staff in a daytime school raid in northwestern Kebbi state on Jun. 17, police, residents and a teacher said.

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Three children died while another eight, along with three teachers, were rescued, but the others remain missing.

* One student was killed and at least 10 people were kidnapped in an armed attack on the main campus of the Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic in Zaria, Kaduna state, late on June 10 according to state authorities.

* Armed men abducted 136 students from an Islamic school in Tegina, a town in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger on May 30, a state official said. The students remain missing.

*Gunmen killed one person and took 19 captive in an April 20 attack on Greenfield University in Kaduna state. The bandits later executed five students before releasing the remaining 14 on May 29.

* Gunmen on motorcycles kidnapped three teachers from a primary school in the Birnin Gwari local government area of Kaduna on March 15, a state government official said.

* Gunmen stormed the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization on the outskirts of the Kaduna state capital on March 11, taking around 39 students.

The men released all the students by May 5. The chairman of the parents’ association said a ransom was paid.

* Bandits kidnapped nearly 300 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, northwestern Zamfara state in the early hours of February 26, the state governor said. )

Gunmen beat them and threatened to shoot them, the girls said after their March 2 release.

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* An armed gang in north-central Niger state killed one student and abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from the Government Science Secondary School in the early hours of February 17, the state governor said.

All 42 captives were released on February 27, state officials said.

* Gunmen kidnapped 344 boys from the Government Science Secondary School in the northwestern state of Katsina during a night-time raid on December 11, state officials said.

Security forces rescued the boys, who said they had been held in a forest by the criminal gang, on December 18.

By The African Mirror