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Witnesses in Nigeria say hundreds of children kidnapped in second mass-abduction in less than a week

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Johannesburg — More than 280 students were kidnapped from their elementary school in northern Nigeria early Thursday morning by unknown assailants on motorcycles, witnesses have told the French news agency AFP. If the numbers are confirmed, it could be an even bigger kidnapping event than the notorious 2014 raid by Boko Haram Islamic militants on a school in the Nigerian town of Chibok, which saw 276 girls taken from their dormitory, almost 100 of whom remain missing.

Local media outlets and CBS News' partner network BBC News first reported the Thursday mass abduction — the second to hit Nigeria in less than a week, saying one student was shot in the chaos at the school in the town of Kuriga, in Kaduna state, and taken to a hospital.

AFP said Friday, citing residents, that one person was killed in the attack, but it was unclear if a student or adult had died. 

BBC News quoted witnesses on Thursday as saying the children from Kuriga were between the ages of 8 and 15, and that one teacher was taken along with them. Kaduna state officials confirmed the mass abduction in Kuriga, but said they could not provide figures as they were still trying to work out how many children might have escaped or been released.

A screengrab taken from video shows families of abducted pupils gathering during the visit of Kaduna State Governor Uba Sani on March 7, 2024, after gunmen kidnapped more than 280 pupils from a school in Kuriga, Kaduna, northern Nigeria. AFPTV/AFP via Getty

The abduction came just days after another mass-kidnapping in Nigeria's tumultuous north, which reportedly saw scores of children, mostly girls, seized by militants in Borno state, further to the east.

Sani Abdullahi, a teacher at the GSS Kuriga school, told AFP that staff members had managed to escape with many students when unidentified gunmen stormed the building early Thursday, firing into the air.

"In GSS Kuriga, 187 children are missing," Abdullahi told AFP, referring to a secondary school in the town. He added that another 125 children were taken from the linked elementary school, but said "25 returned."

Muhammad Adam, a local resident, also told AFP that upwards of 280 children had been abducted.

Hundreds of pupils abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria
A map and infographic shows the location of the town of Kuriga, in northern Nigeria's Kaduna State, where more than 280 school children were said to have been abducted on March 7, 2024. Omar Zaghloul/Anadolu/Getty

"Early in the morning, before we got up, we heard gunshots from bandits, before we knew it they had gathered up the children and taken away the students and their teachers, almost 200 people," Musa Mohammed, another resident told the French news agency. "We are pleading to the government, all of us are pleading, they should please help us with security."

In the previous incident, dozens of young women and girls who had been out collecting firewood near a camp for internally displaced people in Borno were said to have been seized by gunmen.

Witnesses told local news outlets that more than 100 young woman and several boys were seized from near the Babban Sansani IDP camp.

Until last week, there had been a significant drop in the number of kidnappings by criminal groups, commonly known as bandits, in Nigeria. The Nigerian government had issued no comment on either of the attacks by late Thursday afternoon.  

Nigeria Students Kidnapped
A July 6, 2021 file photo shows sandals belonging to students of the Bethel Baptist High School, following an attack by gunmen in Kaduna state, Nigeria, that saw dozens of students abducted by armed bandits. AP

The Nigerian Daily Trust newspaper, quoting a source from inside the Babba Sansani camp, said the fighters were from the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, and "three of the girls who escaped and returned to Ngala said the boys [insurgents] took them" close to a village across Nigeria's northeast border in neighboring Chad.

The United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the French news agency AFP that an estimated 200 people were taken in that raid, and that head counts were being done at the camp to come up with a more exact number.

There were conflicting reports from witnesses about whether the attackers in Borno state were from Boko Haram or the ISIS affiliate in the region, called the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Both groups are active in the region.

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Borno State Police said the attack took place Friday afternoon, but the force could not confirm the numbers kidnapped or missing.

The abductions come after Borno officials said late last year that most of Boko Haram's fighters in the state were either dead or had been apprehended.

If the initial counts prove accurate, Thursday's abduction would be the largest mass-kidnapping in Nigeria since the April 14, 2014 attack on the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, which saw 276 girls taken from their dormitory by Boko Haram militants.

Some of those girls remain in captivity.

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