By SAM OLUKOYA
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Authorities have confirmed that 136 students were abducted by gunmen in northern Nigeria earlier this week, including some as young as 5 years old, the school’s owner said Thursday.
Gunmen on motorcycles targeted Salihu Tanko Islamic School on Sunday, killing one person and abducting three teachers as well, school owner Umar Idris told The Associated Press.
After days of uncertainty of how many students were taken, Niger state government issued a statement Thursday putting the toll at 136 pupils missing.
Idris said the number still could be rise, though, because school officials have not been able to reach all of the parents to confirm whether their children are back home.
“We have sent out a message asking parents who have not yet reported to the school to do so,” Idris said, adding that three teachers also were kidnapped.
Ashiru Adamu Idrisa told reporters his three daughters were among those taken by gunmen, the youngest just 5 years old.
“What I saw was horrifying,” he said. “Right in front of my eyes my children were taken out.”
Other preschoolers were left behind as they could not keep pace when the gunmen hurriedly moved those abducted into the forest.
“The 11 children were mainly aged between 3 and 4 and they lacked the stamina to keep pace with the gunmen, so they were abandoned on the way” Idris said, adding that the preschoolers were found hours after the attack.
The school’s pupils range in age between 3 and 14, and parents are concerned that some of the youngest kidnapping victims may be unable to survive in the forest.
Earlier this week, parents of the abducted children criticized the government’s response to the crisis, and pleaded for the return of their sons and daughters.
“Honestly, I will say that we don’t have a government, because even before this incident happened you heard people shouting that they were coming, then when it happened, and you go to the police station, no action is taken,” said Rabiu Garkuwa, parent of two of the kidnapped children.
Gunmen have abducted hundreds of students in northern Nigeria this year, and the government has been unable to halt the spate of abductions for ransom. As a result, many schools have been forced to close due to the concerns about the kidnapping risk.
Earlier this week, 14 students and staff from Greenfield University in Kaduna state were released after spending more than a month in captivity. The gunmen who demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom had earlier killed five other students to compel the students’ parents to raise the money.