Islamist terror group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for kidnapping more than 330 boys late Friday from a school in the town of Kankara, Nigeria, in the northwest part of the African nation. The mass abductions come just six years after the group took captive more than 276 schoolgirls in the northeast, launching a global social media campaign with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
According to multiple reports, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video released Tuesday that his group took the students as punishment for acting “un-Islamic” due to their Western education at the school, the BBC reported. The Boko Haram name means to forbid Western or non-Islamic education. A social media campaign, #BringBackOurBoys, has been trending in the wake of the kidnappings.
Search and rescue operations were ongoing in a heavily wooded area of northern Nigeria, with the United States lending military surveillance aircraft to the effort.
“We’re begging the government to please try their best to get their release,” the mother of a 15-year-old boy reportedly kidnapped told Reuters news service.
Reuters reported a six-minute video, purportedly released from Boko Haram, shows a group of armed, masked men guarding a group of the abducted boys—“some of whom look no older then 10.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his government have been roundly criticized for failing to stem the rise of Islamist groups.
The abduction, at the hands of armed men who arrived at the school on motorcycles and reportedly exchanged gunfire with local security forces before fleeing with their captives, is the just the latest setback in Nigeria’s effort to stem violence from Muslim militant groups. Observers worry Boko Haram has expanded its turf from its base in northeast Nigeria into the country’s northwest region by partnerships with criminal gangs.
Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for the murder of 27 people Dec. 13 in Diffa, Niger, just across the Nigerian border, warning, according to persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern, that Christians should brace themselves for more attacks as Christmas approaches.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has been riddled with increasing violence over the past decade at the hands of groups like Boko Haram, which is an Islamic State affiliate, and by roving Muslim Fulani herdsmen, largely targeting Christians to the point of many observers calling it a genocide. Since 2005, more than 60,000 Christians have been murdered by Islamists, with more than 1,200 murdered in the first six months of 2020 and up to 3 million displaced and distressed by pressing humanitarian needs.
The SilentSlaughterNigeria.com website has documented much of the violence in Nigeria and includes an incidence tracker and a Change.org petition. Religious freedom watchdogs have called for the U.S. to appoint a special envoy to address the violence against Christians in Nigeria.
Just this month, the State Department added Nigeria to its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for its violation of international religious freedom laws.
Of the 276 schoolgirls abducted in 2014, about half have been rescued or released, and many are believed to have been killed. In 2018, Leah Sharibu, one of 110 girls abducted by Boko Haram from a school in northeast Nigeria, was enslaved for her refusal to renounce her Christianity after authorities negotiated the release of her classmates, all of whom were Muslim. She was reported to be alive in the months after her abduction. According to Open Doors, her father said he was “very sad but also jubilant because my daughter did not denounce Christ.”
Above: An empty classroom at the government school where gunmen abducted students in Kankara, Nigeria, on Dec. 14.
Photo: Newscom via Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde