Scores of children taken at gunpoint from Islamic seminary in Nigeria

Attackers started shooting indiscriminately before kidnapping children

Rabi Magaji-Zakariah (C), a mother of one of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization students who has been abducted, cries during a demonstration in Abuja on May 4, 2021 to demand the release of their families who has spent 55 days in captivity. - Gunmen raided a college in northwestern Nigeria and kidnapped at least 30 students, government officials and parents said on March 12, 2021, in the latest mass abduction targeting a school. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Gunmen have kidnapped scores of children from an Islamic seminary in central Nigeria, officials said.

About 200 children were at the school in Niger state on Sunday during the attack, the local government tweeted, and "an unconfirmed number" were taken.

The abduction came a day after 14 students from a university in north-western Nigeria were freed after 40 days in captivity.

Niger state police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun said the attackers arrived on motorbikes in Tegina town and started shooting indiscriminately, killing one resident and wounding another, before kidnapping the children from the Salihu Tanko Islamic school.

One of the school's officials said the attackers initially took more than 100 children "but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between 4 and 12 years old".

The state government said the attackers had released 11 of the pupils who were "too small and couldn't walk" very far.

In a later Twitter thread, it said the Governor, Sani Bello, had directed "security agencies to bring back the children as soon as possible".

Armed gangs are terrorising inhabitants in north-west and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle and taking hostages.

Such seizures have become a frequent way for criminals to collect ransoms.

Since December 2020, before the attack on Sunday, 730 children and students have been kidnapped.

On April 20, gunmen known locally as "bandits" stormed Greenfield University in north-western Nigeria and kidnapped about 20 students, killing a member of staff.

Five students were executed a few days later to force families and the government to pay a ransom. Fourteen were released on Saturday.

Local press said the families had paid a ransom totalling 180 million naira [$436,000] for their release.

Africa's most populous country has been plagued by kidnappings for years, with criminals mainly hitting the wealthy and prominent.

But more recently, the pool of victims has expanded with the poor now also taken for ransom.

This month, hundreds of protesters partially blocked a motorway into the capital Abuja after a spate of kidnappings in the area.

Marching along the highway, a dozen young men chanted: "We won't accept this, kidnapping must stop."

The criminal gangs keep camps in the Rugu forest that straddles northern and central Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.

Their motives have been financial with no ideological leanings, but there is growing concern they are being infiltrated by terrorists from the north-east waging a 12-year insurrection linked to militant groups, including Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The kidnappings are also complicating challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari's security forces during the insurgency.

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