Security officers have been dispatched to the town of Jangebe where the girls were seized early on Friday morning.
Local officials have confirmed the attack but have not given more details.
This is the latest mass abduction targeting schools in recent weeks. Armed gangs often seize schoolchildren for ransom.
At least 42 people, including 27 students, who were kidnapped last week in Kagara, in neighbouring Niger state, are yet to be released.
The 2014 kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in the north-eastern town of Chibok by Islamist militants Boko Haram brought global attention to the scourge of raids on schools in Nigeria but the most recent attacks are suspected to be the work of criminal gangs.
How did the attack happen?
Friday’s attack happened at 01:00 local time (midnight GMT) when a group of gunmen arrived at the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe town with pick-up vehicles and motorcycles, a teacher told news site Punch.
Some of the gunmen were dressed as government security forces, the report said, adding that they forced the schoolgirls in the vehicles.
But other witnesses have told the BBC that the armed men arrived on foot at the school.
The witness told BBC Hausa that more than 100 gunmen entered the school.
“They broke the school gate and shot at the security man. Then they moved into the hostels and woke up the girls, telling them it was time for prayers. After gathering all of them, the girls were crying and they took them away to the forest. They were also shooting in the air as they were marching to the forest,” the witness said.
Distraught parents have gathered outside the school and some have gone out into the bush to look for their daughters, witnesses say.
A teacher told the BBC that of 421 students in the school at the time, only 55 had been accounted for.
What have the authorities said?
A statement from the police said its officers and a military contingent have been deployed to Jangebe to search for the 317 abducted girls.
The UN children’s agency Unicef said it was ”angered and saddened” by yet another mass abduction of students in Nigeria describing it as ”brutal” and a ”violation of children’s rights.”
Who was behind the attack?
No group has claimed responsibility and their identity is unknown.
Armed groups operating in Zamfara often kidnap for ransom but when gunmen took more than 300 boys from Kankara in neighbouring Katsina state in December last year, some reports claimed that Boko Haram, which operates hundreds of miles away in the north-east, was behind the attack.
The claims was later disputed and the boys released after negotiations.
Why are schoolchildren being abducted?
Every time children are taken from their schools by armed gunmen in northern Nigeria, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls is mentioned.
Similar raids took place before that well-publicised abduction but they received little publicity and they never involved girls.
But global attention generated by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign showed armed groups that the mass abduction of children was a sure way of applying pressure on authorities, including asking for ransom, although the authorities always deny paying.
The government does not appear to have a strategy for stopping these incidents from happening.
But two weeks ago, lawmakers from Zamfara state suggested offering amnesty to repentant kidnappers in exchange for sustainable economic opportunities.
It’s a controversial strategy but one that yielded some positive results in the Niger Delta, which saw a reduction in crime after a similar amnesty programme in 2009.
The government so far says it will not negotiate with criminals.
In the meantime, schools in rural northern Nigeria are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been.
What has been done to secure schools?
A “Safe School Initiative” was launched after the Chibok girls were abducted to bolster security in schools in Nigeria’s north-eastern region by building fences around them.
At least $20m ($14m) was pledged for the three-year project which was supported by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister.
Many container schools were built as temporary learning spaces as part of the scheme, but it is not known if any fences were built in communities affected.
Though most of the recent kidnappings have happened in the north-west, which were not covered by the Safe Schools Initiative, the 2018 abduction of 110 schoolgirls from Government Science School, Dapchi in north-eastern Yobe state raised questions about the success of the initiative.
KANO, Nigeria (Reuters) – Gunmen seized more than 300 girls in a nighttime raid on a school in northwest Nigeria on Friday and are believed to be holding some of them in a forest, police said.
It was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Police in Zamfara state said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “armed bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.
“There’s information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracing and exercising caution and care,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.
He did not say whether those possibly moved to the forest included all of them.
Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, told Reuters the assailants stormed in firing sporadically during the 1 a.m. raid.
“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.
School kidnappings were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants in the northwest whose agenda is unclear.
They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces. Friday’s was the third such incident since December.
The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalysing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government denies making such payouts.
RAGE AND FRUSTRATION
Jangebe town seethed with anger over the abduction, said a government official who was part of the delegation to the community.
Young men hurled rocks at journalists driving through the town, injuring a cameraman, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The situation at Jangebe community is tense as people mobilised to block security operatives, journalists and government officials from getting access to the main town,” he said.
Parents also had no faith in authorities to return their kidnapped girls, said Mohammed Usman Jangebe, the father of one abductee, by phone.
“We are going to rescue our children, since the government isn’t ready to give them protection,” he said.
“All of us that have had our children abducted have agreed to follow them into to the forest. We will not listen to anyone now until we rescue our children,” Jangebe said, before ending the call.
President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid the worsening violence.
Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger.
The hostages are yet to be released.
In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in northwest Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.
Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom – the only Christian – were released.
A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.
Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention, with then U.S. first lady Michelle Obama among the prominent figures calling for their return.
Many have been found or rescued by the army, or freed years later after negotiations between the government and Boko Haram finally resulted in a hefty ransom, according to sources.
But 100 are still missing, either remaining with Boko Haram or dead, security officials say.
Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence, said many northern governors were keen to pay to avoid protracted hostage situations attracting international outrage, which in turn gave an incentive for more abductions.
“When you have these mass abductions now and you see victims are released relatively quickly, unlike Chibok, the one thing that has changed is money,” Effiong said.
(Reporting by Hamza Ibrahim in Kano, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Maiduguri Newsroom and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Hundreds of girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, as gunmen stormed a village in the second mass abduction in the region in just over a week.
Local reports described how unidentified gunmen invaded the town around 2 am and snatched more than 300 girls, aged 12-17, from the Government Girls’ Secondary School in the town of Jangebe in northern Zamfara state.
Islamist group Boko Haram have previously claimed responsibility for school kidnappings, but as of Friday, no group had claimed the attack.
The incident follows another last week, where at least 40 people, including 27 students, were abducted in a similar raid on a state school in Niger state, 300 miles south of Zamfara.
The captives are yet to be released. Speaking on the condition of anonymity a resident who lives near the girls’ school school told The Daily Telegraph that hundreds of bandits drove into the town on several Toyota Hilux vans and scores of motorcycles, firing into the air, before heading to the school.
“A first batch went into the school premises, posing as security personnel as some wore the uniforms of security forces,” the resident said. “The second batch followed, going to the dormitories and taking the girls away, as they screamed for help.”
The resident said that some local vigilantes tried to repel the attack, but were overwhelmed given how heavily armed the bandits were.
A surge in armed violence in the northwest of Nigeria has led to a deteriorating security situation in Africa’s most populous country. In December, bandits in Katsina— which borders Zamfara state— kidnapped at least 300 schoolboys.
Following the incidents, the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), said they were prepared to close down schools, as students and teachers were no longer safe.
Critics have now called for president Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015 on a promise to resolve the country’s security failures, to step down after the obvious increase in attacks, including in his home state.
“Kidnapping for ransom has assumed an industrial and deadly scale never witnessed on the African continent,” a statement by 44 civil society groups said.
“Our children are no longer safe in schools and Nigerian citizens and communities are now pauperized by terrorists who extort huge ransoms while murdering their hostages.”
The governor of Niger state, Abubakar Sani Bello, also criticized the federal government for leaving states to manage rescue efforts alone.
“At the moment, we have not seen any federal support here since this incident occurred,’’ the governor said. Speaking to The Telegraph, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group, Nnamdi Obasi, said there had been a rise in abductions of children for ransom as they attracted large media attention, which placed pressure on authorities to negotiate with perpetrators.
Mr Obasi said that while several police and military operations were underway in the region since 2016, the federal and local governments were torn between dialoguing and fighting with armed groups.
“Contradictory statements and gaps in coordination of efforts are clearly playing into the hands of the criminal and other armed groups, emboldening them to act with increasing impunity and audacity,” said Obasi.
It is clear “they don’t yet have a coherent strategy for dealing with the growing insecurity in the North West,” he added.