Nigeria Tries to Negotiate Return of 136 Kidnapped Students

Officials have confirmed the number of children taken by gunmen from a school in northern Nigeria. The state government is in contact with the kidnappers.

Nigerian authorities are attempting to secure the return of 136 kidnapped students, they announced on Thursday.

The children, some as young as 5 years old, were abducted by gunmen in the country's north earlier week.

It is the latest in a series of recent abductions for ransom in northern Nigeria.

How were the children kidnapped?

An armed group stormed the Salihu Tanko Islamic School on motorcycles, killing one person and abducting three teachers, along with the students, the school's owner, Umar Idris, told The Associated Press.

Niger state officials confirmed the number of kidnapped students in a statement, clarifying uncertainty about the magnitude of the attack.

The number could still rise though, as not all parents have been contacted to confirm that their children are at home, Idris said.

"We have sent out a message asking parents who have not yet reported to the school to do so," Idris added.

Children snatched in front of parents

One parent, Ashiru Adamu Idrisa, told reporters that his three daughters -- the youngest just 5 years old -- were snatched in front of him.

"What I saw was horrifying," he said. "Right in front of my eyes, my children were taken out."

Idris said the gunmen abandoned some preschoolers along the way because they could not keep pace with the group as they headed into the forest.

"The 11 children were mainly aged between 3 and 4 and they lacked the stamina to keep pace with the gunmen, so they were abandoned on the way," Idris said. They were found hours after the attack.

What is the regional government doing?

The state government told AFP news agency that it was negotiating with the group who took the children.

"We are in touch with the kidnappers to find a way to secure the release of the children. We are negotiating to see how we can arrive at an agreement," Deputy Governor Ahmed Mohammed Ketso said.

"We are also in contact with the parents," he added. "We call on them to be patient. Government is making all efforts to secure the release of the children."

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari "condemned as unfortunate" the incident, and ordered security forces and intelligence agencies to help retrieve the children.

Why are schools being targeted?

The region has been hit by a wave of criminal gangs kidnapping children in the hopes of securing ransom. More than 700 children and students have been kidnapped for ransom since December.

Security forces are also battling an Islamist insurgency along the borders.

Nearby Zamfara state is facing a humanitarian crisis, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Thursday.

MSF said it had already treated 10,300 children in Zamfara between January and April for severe acute malnutrition, measles, malaria and other conditions.

"This is 54% higher than in the same period last year," MSF doctor Godwin Emudanohwo said. "People here need food, safe water and vaccinations now," Emudanohwo added.

"Families tell us they won't be able to farm for the new season, which means a new cycle of hunger," Emudanowho said.

According to MSF, gunmen are increasingly sexually assaulting their hostages, and many rape survivors have not received treatment.

aw/rt (AFP, AP)

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