Hundreds of schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, government official says

Gunmen attack a public school in Jangebe, Nigeria, abducting hundreds of schoolgirls.

(CNN) – Hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted in the early hours of Friday when gunmen raided a public school in Zamfara State, northwest Nigeria, a government official told CNN .

The schoolgirls were taken from their hostels by armed men who raided the government secondary school for girls in the town of Jangebe, a senior government official with knowledge of the incident told CNN.

A policeman was killed in the attack, according to the source, who did not want to be named because he did not have permission to speak publicly.

“They arrived on about 20 motorbikes and took the abducted girls to the forest,” the source said. “The bandits arrived around 1:45 a.m. and they operated until about 3 a.m.

“The sad thing is that there is a military checkpoint about four minutes from the school,” he added.

About 500 students are normally at the boarding school, of whom about 315 were taken away by the armed men. Others managed to flee and return to their hostels, the source said.

A state police spokesperson told CNN that a detailed statement would be released as they piece together what happened. He declined to comment on the number of students abducted in the incident.

Later Friday, the force said in a statement that a “heavily armed” joint search and rescue operation had been launched.

The distraught parents of some of the schoolgirls spoke to CNN on Friday, with one saying her daughter was apparently grabbed in her pajamas.

“My daughter is among those taken away because I saw her belongings abandoned,” Jummai Haruna, mother of Hafsat Abubakar, told CNN.

“I believe she was taken away wearing only her sleepwear because I found her hijab and school uniform.”

“I miss her so much already. No one told me anything about my daughter’s fate. She was always with me. Her father died while I was still pregnant with her. Now I don’t don’t know what to do anymore,” Haruna said.

Narama Umar’s niece Asmau Lawali, 14, is also among the missing.

“The government should please help bring our girls back. There were many parents in the school who were crying. It’s very sad, we want our girls back,” Umar told CNN.

Another resident, Safiyanu Jangebi, told CNN he heard gunshots at the time of the abduction and described how onlookers clashed with police at the scene.

“There are police everywhere in the school, the young people are angry and are now throwing stones at the police. The Governor’s wife was also present. They also threw stones at him chanting ‘Allah will punish you’ and ‘We will not forgive you’,” Jangebi said.

Amnesty International has declared the incident a “war crime”.

The latest abduction comes just two weeks after at least 42 people, including students, were abducted in a similar raid on a public school in Niger State, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. One student was killed in this attack, while 27 students, three teachers and nine family members were abducted. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

UNICEF on Friday expressed concern over reports of the nighttime attack.

“We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to live through – one that could have lasting effects on their mental health and well-being. We totally condemn the attack and call on those responsible to immediately release the girls and the government to take action to ensure their safe release and the safety of all other school children in Nigeria.

“Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents shouldn’t have to worry about their children’s safety when sending them to school in the morning”, Hawkins said.

Many parents worry about the safety of their children in schools in northern Nigeria.

In December, at least 300 schoolchildren were abducted by bandits in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state. The students have since been released.

The largest case of school kidnapping in the country is that of schoolgirls from Chibok who were abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014.

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