More than 300 girls have been abducted from a boarding school in northern Nigeria in the latest in a series of student kidnappings in the country.
Gunmen abducted 317 students from the Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe town, Zamfara state, on Friday.
Local man Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from intervening at the school.
The attackers spent several hours at the camp, but there are no reports of any casualties.
Police and the military have since begun joint operations to rescue the girls, Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said.
Nasiru Abdullahi, who said his daughters, aged 10 and 13, were among the missing, told reporters: “It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school, they were unable to protect the girls.
“At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention.”
Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and for the release of their members from jail.
Peter Hawkins, Nigeria’s UNICEF representative, called for the immediate release of the schoolgirls, saying: “We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria.
“This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through.”
Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings over the years, notably the mass abduction in April 2014 by jihadist group Boko Haram of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok in Borno state.
More than a hundred of the girls are still missing.
Friday’s attack came less than two weeks after gunmen abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger State.
The students, teachers and family members are still being held.
In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State before eventually being released.
And in 2019, a British aid worker, Faye Mooney, was killed by kidnappers in the country.
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: “Strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide & keep schools safe.”
Amnesty International also condemned the latest “appalling attack,” warning in a statement that “the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed.”
Teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.