Editor's note: This article has been updated on Dec. 15 to reflect a reported claim by Boko Haram of responsibility for the attack in Kankara.
An attack by armed gunmen on an all-boys secondary school in Kankara, Katsina state, in Northwestern Nigeria has left more than 300 children missing, authorities have said — with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys trending as Nigerians react to the incident.
The attackers arrived at the school on motorcycles late on Friday evening and reportedly engaged security forces in a fierce gun battle, forcing hundreds of children to flee into the surrounding bushes and forests.
“So far we are yet to account for 333 pupils [...] efforts are being made to ascertain the actual number of children that have been kidnapped,” said Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari.
It has been reported that a man identifying himself as the leader of terrorist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attack and abductions.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement: "UNICEF condemns in the strongest possible terms this brutal attack and calls for the immediate release of all children and their return to their families. UNICEF is deeply concerned about this act of violence. Attacks on schools are a violation of children's rights.” said.
Parents and family members of the students gathered at the school on Sunday to issue a plea to authorities to bring the missing boys to safety.
“We don’t see the value of the government. I have a younger brother and a child taken by the kidnappers. I’m from Danja, Katsina state, and I’ve been here in the school since dawn and yet there’s no update,” Bint’a Ismail, mother of a missing child, told Al Jazeera.
The government has said the military will pursue the attackers without any collateral damage.
“We will go the whole hog. We have the intelligence, the information where they are and their movement, and their method of operation,” said Defence Minister Major General Bashir Salihi-Magash, according to Al Jazeera.
Boko Haram — which means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa — began a campaign to impose its version of strict Islamic law in 2009.
The former birthed the globally viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign and Boko Haram’s other activities has caused the International Criminal Court (ICC) to call for a formal inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria, following a decade-long investigation into violence in the north-east involving Boko Haram militants. The conflict has killed over 30,000 and displaced more than 2 million people.
Insecurity has increased greatly across Nigeria in recent years. This month, more than 70 farmers were executed by bandits and kidnappings have been on the rise.
Incidentally, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from Katsina State, was on a private visit to the state on Friday when the attack occurred. On Saturday, he condemned “the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children” and directed that security be tightened around schools.
The state government has directed that all schools in the state be closed till further notice.