Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls taken in mass abduction

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Gunmen kidnapped 317 girls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, police said. This was the latest in a series of mass student kidnappings in the West African nation.
Police and military have started joint operations to rescue the girls after the attack on the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe city, according to a police spokesman in Zamfara state, Mohammed Shehu, who confirmed the kidnapped figure.
One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, told The Associated Press that his daughters, ages 10 and 13, are among the missing.
"It is disappointing that the military, while having a strong presence near the school, failed to protect the girls," he said. "At this stage we only hope for God's intervention."
Resident Musa Mustapha said the armed men also attacked a nearby military camp and check point to prevent soldiers from intervening while the armed men spent hours at school. It wasn't immediately clear whether there were victims.
Several large groups of armed men operate in the state of Zamfara, which the government calls bandits. They have been known to kidnap money and press for the release of their members from prison.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Friday the government's main goal is to get all school hostages back safely, alive and unharmed.
"We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals targeting innocent students in anticipation of large ransom payments," he said. “Don't let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists be under the illusion that they are more powerful than the government. You should not confuse our reluctance to pursue the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as weakness or a sign of fear or indecision. "
He called on state governments to review their policies on making payments in the form of money or vehicles to bandits.
"Such a policy can backfire with disastrous consequences," said Buhari. He also said that state and local governments must do their part to proactively improve safety in and around schools.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the kidnappings and called for the girls to be "released immediately and unconditionally" and to return safely to their families. Attacks on schools are a serious violation of human rights and the rights of children, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
The UN chief reaffirmed the support of the UN government and the Nigerian people "in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime," said Dujarric, and urged the Nigerian authorities to "spare no effort to appeal to those responsible for this crime." to be brought to justice ".
"We are angry and saddened by another brutal attack on school children in Nigeria," said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in the country. "This is a gross violation of children's rights and a terrible experience for children." He asked for her immediate release.
Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings over the years, in particular the mass kidnapping of 276 girls from secondary school in Chibok, Borno state by the jihadist group Boko Haram in April 2014. More than a hundred of the girls are still missing.
The attack on Friday came less than two weeks after armed men abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from Government Science College Kagara, Niger state. The students, teachers and family members are still being held.
In December, 344 students from Kankara State Science Secondary School in Katsina State were abducted. They were eventually released.
Noting the recent kidnappings, Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, tweeted, "The authorities urgently need to take action to turn the tide and keep schools safe."
Amnesty International also condemned the "appalling attack", warning in a statement that "the kidnapped girls are at serious risk of injury".
Teachers were forced to flee to other states for protection and many children had to drop out of education due to frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.
The AP author Carley Petesch from Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.
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