21 abducted schoolchildren rescued in northwestern Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria, Jan 3 (AP) — At least 21 schoolchildren in Nigeria have been rescued hours after they were abducted by armed groups in the West African country’s troubled northwestern region, police said.

The schoolchildren were abducted on Friday while they were traveling with their teacher from the Bakura area to an Islamic school in neighboring Katsina state, police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement over the weekend.

Security forces responded and rescued the 21 students and are “currently working to rescue the remaining victims and apprehend the perpetrators,” Shehu said.

He did not say how many hostages are still being held but said the assailants seized travelers from as many as five vehicles, suggesting there are many more still in captivity.

Children have often been targeted in northwestern Nigeria in attacks by armed groups on rural communities far from the protection of security forces who are often outgunned and outnumbered.

A day after the attack on the schoolchildren, the Nigeria Air Force launched “successful” airstrikes targeting the camps of the gunmen in Zamfara state, senior official Edward Gabkwet told The Associated Press on Monday. He said the number of those killed in the airstrikes has not been confirmed.

“We are going to go after each and every one of them (the gunmen) until all Nigerians feel safe to go about their normal businesses,” he said.

On Sunday, another group of bandits killed six rural residents in several attacks in Kaduna state which neighbors Nigeria’s capital city, according to Samuel Aruwan, the state commissioner for internal security.

The large bands of assailants mostly consist of young men from the Fulani ethnic group, who had traditionally worked as nomadic cattle herders and are caught up in a decades-long conflict with Hausa farming communities over access to water and grazing land.

The gunmen — in groups of more than 150, according to Katsina Governor Aminu Masari — appear to be increasingly organized and well-armed, despite moves by Nigerian authorities to stem the violence including recently designating them as terrorist organizations.