Families in Nigeria await news of 300 kidnapped school girls

JANGEBE, Nigeria (AP) – Families in Nigeria eagerly awaited the news of their kidnapped daughters after more than 300 school girls were kidnapped by armed men from a state school in the north of the country last week, at the latest in a series of mass school tours in the West African Nation.

Concerned parents gathered at the school on Sunday, guarded by the police. Aliyu Ladan Jangebe said his five daughters, ages 12-16, were in school when the kidnappers stormed in. Four were taken away, but one escaped by hiding in a bathroom with three other girls, he told The Associated Press.

“We’re not (a) in a good mood, because when you have five children and (only) can secure one. We only thank God … But we are not happy, ”said Jangebe.

“We cannot imagine their situation,” he said of his missing daughters. Residents of a nearby village said the kidnappers drove the girls around town like animals, he said.

One resident said the armed men also attacked a nearby military camp and check point to prevent soldiers from responding to the mass kidnapping.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the government’s priority is to get all hostages back safely and unharmed. Police and military have started joint operations to rescue the girls, said Mohammed Shehu, a police spokesman in Zamfara state.

The kidnapping of the girls has sparked international outrage.

Pope Francis condemned the kidnapping and prayed for the speedy release of the girls during his public address in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

“I pray for these girls so they can return home soon … I am close to their families and them,” Francis said, asking people to pray with him.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the kidnappings, calling for the girls to be “released immediately and unconditionally” and to return them safely to their families. He called attacks on schools a serious violation of human and children’s rights, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years. 24 students, six staff members and eight relatives were released on Saturday after being abducted on February 17 from Government Science College Kagara, Nigerian state. In December, more than 300 secondary school students in Kankara, northwestern Nigeria, were admitted and later released. The government has said no ransom was paid for the release of the students.

The most notorious kidnapping was in April 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped by the jihadist rebels of Boko Haram from the secondary school in Chibok, Borno state. More than 100 of these girls are still missing.

Boko Haram is against Western education and its fighters often target schools. Other organized armed groups, known locally as bandits, often kidnap students for money. The government says large groups of armed men in Zamfara state have been known to kidnap for money and press for the release of their prisoners.

Nigeria’s criminal networks could be planning further kidnappings if this round of kidnappings is not punished, analysts say.

“While improving policing and community safety in general remains a medium to long-term challenge, authorities need to punish those responsible in the short term to send a strong message that there will be no tolerance for such acts,” said Rida Lyammouri, Senior Fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

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