Issued on: 17/02/2021 – 10:37Modified: 17/02/2021 – 10:45

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched security chiefs to the state of Niger to coordinate a rescue mission for students and teachers abducted by gunmen late Tuesday. “The President has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement. 

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Gunmen believed to belong to a criminal gang have abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from a school in central Nigeria, a local government official said Wednesday, downplaying initial reports that hundreds had been taken.

“They kidnapped 42 people from the school. They took away 27 students, along with three teachers. One student was killed. They also kidnapped 12 family members of the teachers,” Muhammad Sani Idris, spokesman for Niger state’s government, told AFP by phone.

He added that 650 students had been in the school when it was attacked late Tuesday.

The attackers wearing military uniforms stormed the Government Science College in “huge numbers” in the town of Kagara in Niger state late on Tuesday, herding the students into a nearby forest, an official and a security source said.

One student was killed during the kidnapping, the official said.

Northwest and central Nigeria have increasingly been targeted by criminal gangs known locally as “bandits” who kidnap for ransom, rape and pillage across the region. 

“Bandits went into GSC Kagara last night and kidnapped hundreds of students and their teachers,” said an official who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“One of the kidnapped staff and some students managed to escape. The staff confirmed a student was shot dead during the kidnap operation,” the official said.

The security source confirmed the details of the attack..

Troops with aerial support were tracking the bandits for possible rescue, the security source said.

The Niger kidnapping came two months after hundreds of schoolboys were abducted in northwestern Katsina state then released days later following negotiations with the government.

The gangs who are driven by financial motives have no ideological leanings but security officials fear they are being infiltrated by jihadists from Nigeria’s northeast where the army is battling a decade-long Islamist insurgency.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)