Hundreds of students in Nigeria are feared missing after gunmen stormed a secondary school in the northern state of Katsina, news agencies and the Nigerian authorities said.
Gunmen rushed into the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara at around 9:40 p.m. Friday, shooting AK-47 rifles into the air and rounding up students, the police in Katsina said.
It was unclear how many students had been kidnapped. Witnesses and officials have estimated that the school typically holds 800 to 1,200 students. More than 200 students who were abducted were rescued, Isah Gambo, a police spokesman, said Saturday in a statement.
But about 400 students remained unaccounted for, a parent and school employee told the Reuters news agency, and the authorities, including the army and air force, were working to get the missing students back.
The attack was met with resistance by the police, which allowed some students to scale the fence of the school and run for safety and “forced the hoodlums to retreat into the forest,” Mr. Gambo said.
The military tracked the attackers and exchanged gunfire with them in a forest in Kankara, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said Saturday.
No student casualties have been reported, although one officer was shot during the attackers’ raid on the school on Friday and taken to a hospital, the police said. The shootings around the school “sent hundreds of them fleeing and scrambling over the perimeter walls,” Mr. Shehu said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. Some witnesses said the gunmen were Fulani, a nomadic ethnic group in Nigeria, but the authorities have not verified those assertions.
But the attack, reminiscent of the 2014 kidnapping of schoolgirls and so close to the execution this month of more than 70 farmers in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram militants, angered Nigerians who accused the government of not protecting its citizens. Kidnappings for ransom have occurred in the area near the abductions.
President Buhari, who was in his home state of Katsina for a visit when the attack occurred, on Saturday condemned “the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children.” He directed that security be tightened around schools.
Aminu Masari, Katsina state’s governor, has ordered all schools in the state to be closed, the local news media reported.
On Saturday, parents and relatives of the missing students gathered at the school to await information.
“I have a child and a younger brother who’ve been taken by the kidnappers,” said Bint’a Ismael, who told the British Broadcasting Corporation on Saturday that she had been waiting at the school since dawn for an update.
“We are terrified here in Katsina state,” she said. “We don’t see the point of the government.”