Jihadist group Boko Haram claims the kidnapping of hundreds of high school students

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, claimed the kidnapping of several hundred high school students in northwestern Nigeria, in an area far from their stronghold, marking an important turning point in the expansion of the jihadist group.

At least 333 teenagers are still missing since the attack of their boarding school in Kankara, Katsina State (northwest), on the night from Friday to Saturday.

More than 100 armed men on motorcycles attacked this rural public school and while some high school students managed to escape, others were caught up, separated into several groups and taken by attackers, according to locals contacted by AFP.

Although this mass kidnapping revived the spectrum of Chibok‘s kidnapping in 2014, when 276 girls had been kidnapped during an examination, it was first attributed to โ€œbanditsโ€ acting a priori without ideological or religious motivation.

Indeed, kidnappings for ransom are common in this part of Nigeria, and armed groups terrorize the population, steal their cattle and their villages for financial reasons.

But Tuesday morning, in a voice message broadcast according to the group’s traditional channels, Abubakar Shekau, historical leader of Boko Haram, claimed the kidnapping of high school students in Katsina.

โ€œI am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,โ€ he said.

Many experts and observers from the region had warned against the possible rapprochement of these criminal โ€œbanditsโ€ with jihadist groups that are expanding their influence throughout the Sahelian region, from central Mali to Lake Chad (northern Cameroon).

โ€œAllegiance to Shekauโ€

โ€œThere has been reports that veterans who left Boko Haram or Iswap (Islamic State in West Africa group) have now joined the ranks of bandits in the northwest,โ€ says Idayat Hassan of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), a think-tank based in Abuja.

โ€œOn the other hand, we have seen some groups pledged allegiance to Shekau in recent months,โ€ notes the security expert in an interview with AFP.

Statement shared by Nnamdi Obasi, Nigerian researcher for International Crisis Group, who published a report last May worrying about the expansion of the influence of jihadist groups throughout northern Nigeria, particularly in the northwest states (Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna,…).

โ€œSince the beginning of 2019, the governors of these states have warned (the central government) of the jihadist infiltration of the Boko Haram group into the region,โ€ says Obasi.

Deteriorated security situation

President Muhammadu Buhari, who is himself from Katsina and who was visiting his home last weekend at the time of the abduction, condemned the attack and ordered the strengthening of security in all schools.

Schools have also been closed.

On Monday, the army claimed to have located โ€œthe bandits denโ€, adding that a military operation was underway.

The security situation in northern Nigeria has deteriorated considerably since Buhari was elected in 2015, a Muslim from the north of the country, but had made the fight against Boko Haram a priority.

The 77-year-old head of state announced that he would speak to the National Assembly last week to explain the creeping insecurity that is gaining the country, before turning back.

โ€œThe National Assembly has no constitutional power to teach the president in his role as General Commander of the Armed Forces,โ€ his Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami had justified.

The jihadist conflict has killed 36,000 people, mainly in the north-east of the country, around Lake Chad, and more than two million people are still unable to return to their homes.

It spread to Chad, Cameroon and Niger, countries neighbouring the Lake Chad basin.