Gunmen killed three people at an agricultural college in the northwest of the Nigerian state of Zamfara and kidnapped 20 others, including 15 students, the school said on Monday.
Ransom armed kidnappings are now making headlines almost daily in Africa’s most populous country, seven years after Boko Haram extremists shocked the world by kidnapping 276 Chibok girls.
Schools attacked by criminal gangs in the north and center of the West African country are usually located in remote areas where students live in dormitories with only security guards.
Registrar Aminu Khalid Maradun told AFP on Sunday at Bakura College of Agriculture and Animal Sciences, “unknown armed men attacked the school around 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).”
They killed a police officer and two security officers, “and kidnapped 20, including 15 students,” he said.
The other five abductees are employees and family members.
Another school official confirmed the attack.
“The armed men pushed their way into the school through the pedestrian gate and took the hostages with them,” Abdullahi Aminu, who is responsible for the school’s accommodation, told AFP.
“You killed three security guards in a shooting.”
The official said the school received a call early Monday from the kidnappers saying they were holding 20 hostages.
950 kidnappings since December
A new high school graduate, Usman Usman, also confirmed the incident.
“I left school around 5:30 pm on Sunday … My friend called me this morning and said that some bandits attacked the school that night. They killed people and kidnapped many,” said Usman, 22.
Police and government officials in Zamfara did not immediately respond to calls or messages about the incident.
The UN estimates that at least 950 students have been kidnapped across Nigeria since December.
Most were released after negotiations with local officials, but some are still in custody.
The last mass kidnapping took place in July when gunmen abducted 121 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna state.
Heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, have been terrorizing communities in the area for years. They usually attack villages to raid, kill, and steal livestock.
Military operations and peace deals have not ended the violence, and bandits hiding in camps in the Rugu Forest between the states of Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger continue to launch attacks.
Since the end of last year, the gangs have increasingly targeted schools and colleges to extort ransom.
Bandits hunt for financial gain and have no known ideological bias, but security experts and officials are concerned about possible links with jihadists in the north-east of the country.
Kidnappings are just one of the challenges facing the Nigerian security forces, who are fighting a bitter Islamist uprising in the northeast and separatist tensions in parts of the south.