The jihadist group Boko Haram assumed responsibility for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolchildren in northwestern Nigeria on Tuesday.
“I’m Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” said the leader of the group behind the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls in Chibok in 2014 in a voice message.
Since the attack on the All-Boys Government Science Secondary School in the northwestern state of Katsina, at least 333 students have been missing late Friday.
The attack was originally accused of armed groups known locally as “bandits” operating in the unstable region where ransom kidnappings are common.
The army said Monday it had found the men’s hideout and a military operation was underway.
More than 100 armed men on motorcycles stormed the rural school north of the city of Kankara, forcing the students to flee and hide in the surrounding bush.
A number of boys escaped, but many were captured, divided into groups and taken away, residents told AFP.
The kidnappings took place in the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, who condemned the attack and ordered security in schools to be increased while those in Katsina state were closed.
Tuesday’s claim to responsibility marks an important turning point in the advance of jihadist groups in northwestern Nigeria.
Boko Haram and a splinter group of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are waging an uprising in northeast Nigeria and are said to have only a small presence in the northwest.
However, concerns about jihadist intrusion into the region have increased, particularly after fighters claiming to be in the northwest released a 2020 propaganda video pledging allegiance to Boko Haram’s leaders.
Buhari made fighting the group a priority, but the security situation in northern Nigeria has deteriorated since his 2015 election.
#BringBackOurBoys has been a trend on social media since the weekend – a reference to a similar hashtag used after the girls were kidnapped in 2014.