Nigerian troops surround area gunmen are believed to be holding 300 schoolboys

Gunmen who abducted around 300 schoolchildren from a secondary school in Nigeria’s northwest region last week have been “surrounded” by government troops, according to the presidency.

Garba Shehu, a senior special assistant to President , said on Sunday that “only ten children were remaining in the hands of the gunmen.”

His report contradicts claims by Katsina State Governor, Bello Masari, who said that 333 children were still missing on Sunday and this may increase as parents continue to look for their children.

Unknown assailants on motorbikes stormed an all-boys school in the city of Kankara in Nigeria’s northwest Katsina State on Friday evening.

The kidnappers fled into a nearby forest that stretches across six nearby states after exchanging fire with security forces, eyewitnesses said.

It is not yet known who is responsible for the attack. The incident bears striking similarities to the abduction of 276 female students by Islamist insurgents Boko Haram in the city of Chibok in 2014. Criminal gangs that kidnap civilians and officials for money are also common in the region.

Nine senior police officers were abducted in Katsina State by criminal gangs in November and were held to ransom for around £2,000 each.

However, there is a possibility that Boko Haram is to blame, analysts say. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, has been trying to establish operations in the region west of Katsina State, said Bulama Bukarti, from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

Several hundred fighters in Zamfara State recently claimed to be operating a Boko Haram cell that is loyal to Mr Shekau.

He adds that a similar number of fighters were also recorded claiming allegiance to Mr Shekau in Niger State.

It is also possible the fighters moved through the large forest from a neighbouring state to stage the attack. Men can be heard shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in the background during one eyewitness video of the raid.

Mr Bukarti doubts claims that the assailants have been caught by government forces. If the attackers disappeared into the large forest it will have been almost impossible to surround them, he said.

“They have now walked for three days, and if they have walked for three days, I don’t know how you are going to surround them.”

He added: “If the government moves fast we still have a window of opportunity to rescue them but every hour lost makes the rescue mission more difficult.” 

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