Boko Haram on Tuesday, December 15, 2020, claimed it was behind the abduction of hundreds of students in northwestern Nigeria, in what appears to be a major expansion of the jihadist group’s activities into new areas.
At least 333 students are still missing since the attack late Friday on the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Katsina State — hundreds of kilometres (miles) from Boko Haram’s stronghold in northeastern Nigeria.
“I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” the leader of Boko Haram said in a voice message.
More than 100 gunmen on motorcycles stormed the rural school north of Kankara town, forcing students to flee and hide in the surrounding bush.
A number of boys were able to escape, but many were captured, split into groups and taken away, residents told newsmen.
#BringBackOurBoys has been trending on social media since the weekend in reference to a similar hashtag used after Boko Haram abducted 276 girls in 2014 in Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria.
The weekend attack was initially blamed on armed groups locally known as “bandits”, who are active in the unstable region where kidnappings for ransom are common.
The army has said it has located the hideout of the “bandits”, and that a military operation was under way.
The kidnappings occurred in the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, who condemned the attack and ordered security stepped up in schools. In Katsina, all schools were closed shortly after the incident.
Tuesday’s claim of responsibility marks a major turning point in the advance of jihadist groups in northwest Nigeria.
Boko Haram, and a splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), are waging an insurgency in the northeast and are thought to have only a minor presence in the northwest.