Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP / Getty Images

Rebels who abducted Nigerian schoolgirls said they were govt soldiers

Boko Haram believed to be behind kidnapping of more than 100 students, a handful of whom escaped Wednesday

Nigerian rebels duped dozens of schoolgirls into thinking they were government soldiers come to evacuate them before abducting over 100 in their latest anti-government raid, one of the survivors said on Wednesday.

Gunmen suspected to be members of the extremist group Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, swooped into Chibok town in Borno state and into a local all-girls government secondary school late on Monday, calling on the teenage students to leave their beds in the hostel.

Ten of the kidnapped students managed to escape the captors' camp on Wednesday. Four others had fled on Tuesday after the vehicle used to transport them broke down, the Borno state governor said. He is offering a reward of more than $300,000 for credible information on the remaining girls' whereabouts.

The mass abduction has shocked Nigeria and provided further evidence that the five-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has brought lawlessness to swaths of the arid, poor northeast. Hundreds of people have been killed in violence in the region in recent months.

The kidnapping occurred the same day a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, killed 75 people on the edge of the capital, Abuja, stirring fears that violence might spread from the north of Africa's main oil producer and, as of last week, its largest economy.

The Chibok students, who had returned to take final-year certificate exams at their school despite a statewide closure of educational centers due to the threat of Boko Haram attacks, initially obeyed the armed visitors.

"When we saw these gunmen, we thought they were soldiers, they told all of us to come and walk to the gates, we followed their instructions," 18-year-old Godiya Isaiah, who later managed to escape the abductors, told Reuters.

But when the armed men started ransacking the school storerooms and set fire to the building, the terrified girls being herded at gunpoint into vehicles realized they were being kidnapped.

"We were crying," Isaiah said, recounting how she later jumped from a truck and ran away to hide in the bush. Other girls were packed into a bus and some pickup trucks.

Borno state education commissioner Inuwa Kubo said five other girls who also managed to escape told the same story.

"They went into the bus unsuspecting," he told Reuters. "They were lured into the vehicle because they were told that the school was going to be attacked."

The attackers also raided nearby Chibok town, ransacking stores and offices there and killing several people, witnesses said.

U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the immediate release of the girls, saying he is "deeply alarmed about the increasing frequency and brutality of attacks against educational institutions in the north of the country."

Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language broadly means "Western education is sinful,” has previously attacked several schools as symbols of secular authority, killing pupils and teachers, as well as Christian churches and Nigerian state targets such as police, army and government offices.

Nigerian police and army patrols on Wednesday were still scouring the bush and hills around Chibok for the missing girls, believed to number at least 100. Kubo said 129 girls had been at the school taking their exams when the abduction took place. A military spokesman called the abductors "terrorists."

Chibok is not far from a rugged area of forest, hills and caves where military officials say Boko Haram has camps near the border with neighboring Cameroon. The group has abducted girls in the past to be sex slaves for the fighters and to do camp work.

No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction or for a rush-hour bomb blast on Abuja's outskirts, which put the capital on alert around three weeks before the central city was due to host a high-profile World Economic Forum on Africa.

But President Goodluck Jonathan has pointed the finger of suspicion for the bombing at Boko Haram, bringing home to Nigerians in the centrally located capital that the insurrection ravaging poorer states hundreds of miles to the northeast could also strike much closer to home.

With elections due in February, Jonathan is under intense pressure to contain the Boko Haram insurgency and additional communal sectarian violence in Nigeria's center-north.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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