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Gunmen kidnap 140 high school students in Nigeria

Kaduna, Nigeria — Gunmen have kidnapped 140 students from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, a school official said on Monday, the latest in a wave of mass abductions targeting schoolchildren and students. Heavily-armed criminal gangs often attack villages to loot, steal cattle and abduct people for ransom in northwest and central Nigeria, but since the start of the year they have increasingly targeted schools and colleges.

The attackers scaled a fence to break into the Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna state in the early hours of Monday, taking away most of the 165 pupils boarding there overnight.

Parents and relatives of students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Kaduna who have been abducted hold banners and placards during a demonstration in Abuja, May 4, 2021 to demand the release of their families who have spent 55 days in captivity. There was another mass abduction in Kaduna state, with about 140 students being taken from a Baptist high school, on July 5, 2021.  KOLA SULAIMON/AFP/Getty

"The kidnappers took away 140 students, only 25 students escaped. We still have no idea where the students were taken," Emmanuel Paul, a teacher at the school told AFP.

Kaduna state police spokesman Mohammed Jalige confirmed the early Monday morning attack, but he could not give details on the number of pupils taken.

"Tactical police teams went after the kidnappers," he said. "We are still on the rescue mission."

Around 1,000 students and pupils have been abducted in different Nigerian states since December last year. Most have been released after negotiations with local officials, although some are still being held.

Bethel Baptist High School is a co-education college established by the Baptist church in 1991 at Maramara village in Chikun district outside the state capital Kaduna.

Monday's attack was the fourth mass school kidnap in Kaduna state since December.

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Kaduna state governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai has been one of the most vocal local leaders insisting he will refuse to pay ransom money.

Monday's school abduction came just hours after gunmen also snatched eight medical employees from a Kaduna health center, according to police.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general first elected in 2015, has promised to end the scourge of kidnapping and criminal gangs, but the mass abductions are only one challenge facing his government.

Nigeria's security forces have been battling a jihadist insurgency the northeast since 2009, a conflict that has killed around 40,000 people and displaced more than 2 million more.

The criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, operate from camps in the Rugu forest, which cuts across Zamfara, Katsina, and Kaduna state in Nigeria, as well as Niger.

Most of the gangs are motivated by material gain, although some have sworn allegiance to the jihadist organizations in northeast Nigeria, hundreds of miles away.

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