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Gunmen kidnap over 100 schoolgirls in Nigeria

Abductions blamed on Boko Haram, a rebel group that has attacked hundreds of schools among other targets

Gunmen kidnapped scores of schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria late Monday, in a mass abduction thought to be carried out by members of Boko Haram, the same armed network that killed 75 in a bus bombing in the country’s capital a day earlier.

"Over 100 female students in our government secondary school at Chibok have been abducted," Audu Musa, who teaches in another public school in the area, said, adding that the people responsible were believed to be members of Boko Haram. The armed group, who has as its aim the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has previously attacked schools in the region.

The kidnappings, which were first reported by the BBC on Tuesday, took place after midnight in Chibok in the Borno state, a stronghold for Boko Haram.

Gunmen killed a soldier and police officer guarding the school, then took off with at least 100 students, a State Security Service official said. Some of the teens managed to escape from the back of an open truck, officials said.

A local government official said he did not know how many of the girls have escaped but that "many" have walked through the bushes and back to Chibok. The girls were piled into the back of an open truck and, as it was traveling, some grabbed at low-hanging branches to swing off while others jumped off the slow-moving vehicle, he said. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to give information to reporters.

Boko Haram is held responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nigerians in violence that has plagued the country in recent years. Though their early attacks targeted security services, politicians and other high-profile individuals, the assaults have quickly spread to United Nations buildings, churches, schools and civilians, according to a report released this month by the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing and resolving conflict.

By 2013, the group had taken control of large swathes of the northern Borno state, the report said. The government’s military response and civilian militia groups briefly debilitated the movement, but kidnappings, forced conscription and recruiting of criminals has bolstered their ranks.

Attacks by Boko Haram increased during the first three months in 2014 — with almost daily bombings of schools, homes and businesses. Amnesty International said that at least 1,500 people died during that period.

In Borno state, the armed group has destroyed over 882 classrooms, and in nearby Yobe state, all schools were shut from June to September 2013, the Crisis Group report said. It added that on March 6, 2014, the federal government closed five colleges in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, ordering their estimated 10,000 students to relocate.  

On Monday, a massive explosion at a busy bus station in the capital, Abuja, killed scores of people. Authorities raised the death toll Tuesday to 75 dead, and that number is expected to grow.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan blamed the attack on Boko Haram. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau recently threatened to attack the capital and even take the conflict across the border to Cameroon.

Responding to Monday’s blast, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said Nigeria needs outside help.

“The bombings … automatically cast doubts on the (government) claims of containing the crisis to the fringes of the country,” he said. “It is time for Nigeria to accept foreign assistance with fighting terrorism in the country.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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