Nigeria’s president said he has dispatched security chiefs to coordinate a rescue operation for the students taken by the unidentified gunmen in Niger state.

In this December 18, 2020 file photo, a rescued group of Nigerian school boys from another abduction sit together at the Government house in Katsina, Nigeria.
In this December 18, 2020 file photo, a rescued group of Nigerian school boys from another abduction sit together at the Government house in Katsina, Nigeria. (Reuters)

Gunmen believed to belong to a criminal gang have stormed a school in central Nigeria, killing one student and kidnapping 42 people including 27 schoolboys, local authorities and sources said.

Heavily-armed gangs known locally as "bandits" in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.

Late on Tuesday, large numbers of gunmen dressed in military uniforms stormed the Government Science College (GSC) in the town of Kagara in Niger state before hauling students into a nearby forest, a government official and a security source said.

“They kidnapped 42 people from the school. They took away 27 students, along with three teachers. One student was killed. They also kidnapped 12 family members of the teachers,” Muhammad Sani Idris, spokesman for Niger state’s government, said by phone on Wednesday.

He added that 650 students had been in the school when it was attacked.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari dispatched security chiefs to coordinate rescue operation for students abducted by the unidentified gunmen, his spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Boko Haram releases dozens of Chibok girls

State of emergency?

Only two months ago, more than 300 students were kidnapped in Kankara, in nearby Katsina state. 

The boys were later released but the incident sparked global outrage and a social media campaign to #BringBackOurBoys.

"A head count is underway to establish how many students were kidnapped," a security source said.

Troops with air support were tracking the bandits for a possible rescue operation, a security source told AFP.

On Tuesday, Niger state authorities said bandits also killed 10 people and kidnapped at least 23 others in attacks on two remote villages.

The region is increasingly a hub for criminal gangs who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and torching homes.

Bandits are known to hide in camps in Rugu forest, which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Despite the deployment of troops, deadly attacks persist.

The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings.

But there is growing concern they are being infiltrated by extremists from the northeast.

The latest kidnapping incident comes nearly three years after 111 schoolgirls were snatched by extremists in Dapchi, in the north, and six years after 276 girls were taken from Chibok, in the northeast, in a raid that shocked the world.

"Nigeria has to declare a state of emergency on insecurity," said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development think tank.

"The government must secure the schools and urgently too, or else (the) Chibok, Dapchi and Kankara school raids will encourage others to do worse."

READ MORE: Families of kidnapped Nigerian boys fear they might join Boko Haram

Source: TRTWorld and agencies