Families of kidnapped Nigerian boys fear time running out

KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Families of more than 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys worried they may be brainwashed or held for years as security forces continued the hunt on Wednesday for armed captors possibly from the jihadist Boko Haram movement.

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According to an unverified audio clip, the Islamist group – whose name means “Western education is forbidden” – was responsible for last week’s raid on the all-boys school in Kankara town in northwestern Katsina state.

Parents fear time may be running out.

“They will radicalise our children if the government does not act fast to help us rescue them,” trader Shuaibu Kankara recounted from his home, stopping to cry.

His 13-year-old son Annas was among those abducted from the Government Science school on Friday night. Two other sons managed to escape, he added, when gunmen on motorbikes stormed the school and marched the boys into a forest.

Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser with security think tank International Crisis Group, said the boys may have been taken over the porous border with Niger, about an hour’s drive north, as has happened with past kidnappings in the area

“That would make the task of rescuing the boys a lot more complicated,” he said.

If Boko Haram carried out the kidnapping, that would mark an expansion beyond its northeastern base, security experts say. But it may have purchased the boys from criminal gangs in the northwest with whom it has been building ties.

CHIBOK GIRLS REMEMBERED

Numerous Nigerian soldiers and intelligence officers were combing the Rugu forest on Friday in search of the missing schoolboys, Abdu Labaran, an aide to Katsina’s state governor, told Reuters.

One of the largest forests in Nigeria, Rugu straddles three states and includes woodland near the school

The mass abduction echoes Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok. Six years on, only about half have been found or freed. Others were married to fighters, while some are assumed dead.

“We pray it’s not going to be another situation of the Chibok girls’ abduction,” said Ahmed Bakori, a farmer whose 14-year-old son Abubakar was among those taken.

Anxious authorities in four nearby states – Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and Jigawa – announced late on Tuesday that they would close all their state schools.

At the Government Science compound, about two dozen parents came on Wednesday and prayed in the school mosque. The school compound, comprising of white single-storey buildings built on dusty red soil, was quiet.

Abubakar Lawal, who has two children taken, said he did not believe Boko Haram’s claim and would wait with patience and prayers. “The government has to do diplomacy in a way to rescue these people in a good manner and to come back safely,” he said, standing outside the school building.

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