Gunmen raided a college in northwestern Nigeria and kidnapped 39 students, government officials and parents said Friday, in the latest mass abduction targeting a school.
The abductors stormed the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Mando, Kaduna state, around 9:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Thursday, shooting indiscriminately before taking students.
The Kaduna college was said to have some 300 male and female students, mostly aged 17 and older, at the time of the attack.
Kaduna state commissioner for internal security Samuel Aruwan said 39 of the students were missing while the army was able to rescue 180 people after a battle with the gunmen.
"Further checks in the wake of the attack by armed bandits … indicate that 39 students are currently unaccounted for," including 23 females and 16 males, Aruwan said in a statement late Friday.
He had initially said 30 students were unaccounted for.
Aruwan said the state government "is maintaining close communication with the management of the college as efforts are sustained by security agencies toward the tracking of the missing students."
The commissioner said some of the rescued students were injured during the operation and were being treated at a military hospital.
Appeal to the government
Police and military personnel stood guard around the college at the outskirts of Kaduna city on Friday afternoon as anxious parents and families waited for news. A fighter jet flew overhead.
Government officials said the students were found to be missing after a headcount at the college, and parents said they had been taken by the gunmen.
"We have confirmed from her colleagues our daughter Sera is with the abductors," Helen Sunday told reporters, tears rolling down her face. "I appeal to the government to help rescue our children."
"It is unacceptable for parents to send their children to school only to be kidnapped by criminal elements," said Denis John, who said his brother was among those taken.
Heavily armed gangs in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
The bandits have recently turned their focus to schools where they kidnap students or schoolchildren for ransom. Thursday's attack was at least the fourth since December.
Mass kidnappings in the northwest are complicating security challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari's forces who are also battling a more than decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast.
Late night gunfire
Residents near the Kaduna college also heard repeated gunshots in the area late Thursday.
"We kept hearing gunshots that we ignored as shooting drills from the Nigeria Defense Academy, which is a stone’s throw from the forestry college," said Mustapha Aliyu, who lives in the area.
"It was only when we came out for the morning prayers in the mosque that we learned it was gunmen who took away students from the college," he said.
The area is notorious for banditry and armed robbery, especially along the highway linking the city with the airport.
The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings. Victims are often released shortly after negotiations though officials always deny any ransom payments.
Last Saturday, criminal gangs known locally as bandits broke into the staff quarters of the nearby Kaduna airport, abducting 12 people, according to airport officials.
On February 27, gunmen abducted 279 schoolgirls in nearby Zamfara state.
And a week earlier, gunmen seized 42 people, including 27 students from an all-boys boarding school in central Niger state.
In December, hundreds of schoolboys were seized in Katsina, Buhari's home state, while he was on a visit.
The U.S. has condemned the recent attacks on schools.
"Frankly, we're disgusted by this pattern of mass abductions of school kids. I can think of nothing more abhorrent," said Michael Gonzales, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, at a press briefing.
He said the U.S. "is ready to provide appropriate support to the Nigerian government if requested to do so."