A Nigerian woman whose only son is among the more than 330 boys who are still missing after being kidnapped from their school in the northern state of Katsina last week, pleaded for their return in a protest Tuesday, as the jihadist rebel group Boko Haram reportedly said. claimed responsibility for the masses. kidnapping.
Hundreds of gunmen with assault rifles surrounded Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), a boys-only boarding school in the city of Kankara, on Friday, fired at police before arresting students and forcing them to march through the heavily forested region in separate groups, witnesses have said .
The Daily Nigerian said on Tuesday it received an audio message from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau saying his group had kidnapped the schoolboys because Western education is against the principles of Islam.
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“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage non-Muslim practices, as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and His Holy Prophet,” Shekau said in the recording, according to the paper. The audio message has not been independently verified. But Shekau has released video and audio messages on behalf of Boko Haram in the past.
“Stop killing our children, bring our children back,” Amrata Hamza, whose only son was kidnapped, told local broadcaster CLIQQ TV in a protest organized Tuesday. “I don’t know my son’s condition. I’m speechless. Can’t talk, I haven’t had any water since I arrived in Kankara. There is a lot of sunlight, I know our kids are thirsty, they are hungry. Please help us. to bring our children back. ”
The Nigerian government said on Saturday a joint rescue operation by state police, air force and military after the military engaged in firefights with bandits after they found shelter in the Zango / Paula forest. Many of the first 600 male students to be taken from the school escaped their captors, but more than 330 remained missing as of Tuesday, the Associated Press said.
‘We were at the hostel when we heard gunshots. I heard someone say the security guard was murdered. When we went out, lights flashed at us, as they approached us, we started to hear gunshots, ”Abukakar Umar, a senior at GSSS, told CLIQQ TV, telling what happened when his school was under siege. “When it happened, we ran to the bush because bullets were fired directly at us. Until we found a safe place where we slept. “
“To be fair, I don’t plan on going back as we suffered,” added Umar, explaining that he had no intention of returning to the school given the security risk.
In a statement, Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said on Monday that “the kidnappers had made contact and discussions were already underway about the safety and return” of the children to their homes. Shehu did not identify the kidnappers, and it was originally believed that the attackers were bandits, sometimes working with Boko Haram to hold people for ransom.
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Several armed groups operate in northwestern Nigeria, where the state of Katsina is located.
“When we heard the news, we were totally confused. We were told they entered the school shooting and went to the hostel by students who had kidnapped the hostel, ”Yahaya Kankar, the father of two kidnapped children, told CLIQQ TV. There was no mercy. It was horrible. They just came and chose our children as donkeys, as animals. We never thought that such bandits would enter our school. ”
Dajuma Katsina, a local journalist and public commentator, told the outlet that the city of Kankara has been under attack almost daily for the past two months and wondered why the school did not have enough security personnel given the known security threat.
“A school with over 800 students in a ‘flashpoint’ area with only one police officer at the school. This is the most burning question and the most unfortunate, ”said Katsina. But he also praised the efforts of the state governor Katsina, who “attended the school despite the tension and sympathized equally with teachers and parents.”
Boko Haram and the breakaway faction, the Islamic State’s West Africa province, are fighting for the imposition of strict Islamic Sharia law in Nigeria. Thousands have died in the more than 10-year-old uprising and more than a million people have been displaced.
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This latest episode comes six years after Boko Haram abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from their dormitory at Government Secondary School in Chibok in northeast Borno state in April 2014. First Lady Michelle Obama at the time brought the problem to the fore with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
About 100 of the girls are still missing. Boko Haram said at the time that it wanted to prevent women from going to school. The recent incident at Government Science Secondary School in Kankara is the worst attack on a boys’ school since February 2014, when 59 boys were killed in a Boko Haram attack on Federal Government College Buni Yadi, Yobe State.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.