330 Students Kidnapped – Is Boko Haram Expanding?

On December 11th, over 800 students were getting ready for the night at northwestern Nigeria’s Government Science Secondary School when it was attacked by armed men. The majority of the schoolboys managed to escape, but over 330 were abducted, likely by the Islamic insurgent group Boko Haram, and held captive for nearly a week. Four days later, Al Jazeera reported that the Nigerian military found and freed at least 17 of the kidnapped students, although two students tragically died during the course of the rescue operation. ​The rescued students were handed over to security operatives and are now waiting to get medical examinations before returning safely to their families. At the moment, it is unclear how many students remain captive.

U.S. State Department spokesman Cale Brown offered sympathy to the families of the missing students and the two pupils who died in the operation.

President Muhammed Buhari has declared the fight against Boko Haram a priority, but right now, protecting Nigeria’s students takes precedence. The Nigerian government announced that it is currently using all resources in order to bring the boys home unharmed, and the Los Angeles Times reported that leaders are currently “working with the police and … [engaging] private security firms to safeguard schools” to prevent an attack from happening again.

It was confusing and intimidating, one of the rescued schoolboys told Al Jazeera, since the abductors were posing as military men. “They kept shouting we should come back, that they were in the school to rescue us. And most of us came back,” he said.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abduction through an audio message. According to C.N.N., the message was shared with Nigerian media shortly before the rescue mission and the voice claims to be Abubakar Shekau, a leader of one of the group’s factions. Despite the message, security operatives are skeptical, claiming that more evidence is needed before they can confirm that the kidnappers aren’t simply masquerading as the terrorist group. However, the kidnapping took place in northwestern Katsina state, hundreds of kilometers away from Boko Haram’s base in northeast Nigeria. If Boko Haram is indeed behind the abduction, the attack would mark a geographical expansion in its activities.

Boko Haram has been vandalizing northern Nigeria and harassing its citizens with violence and abuse for multiple years. The group has mainly been active in Nigeria’s northwest this year, the Los Angeles Times reports, and Amnesty International says that armed bandits have killed over 1,100 people since last January. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from a government boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Borno state. Four years later, Boko Haram extremists kidnapped 110 girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, with the message that girls should not be allowed an education. President Buhari and his government have attempted negotiating tactics to prevent the conflict from developing, but the region’s security remains unstable.

The successful rescue of the 17 children provides hope for the families still waiting to hear about their own sons, but an expanding Boko Haram is a fearful thought. This latest kidnapping has shaken both Nigeria and the world. The government must take action against the group that keeps violating the human rights of Nigeria’s children.

Olivia Berntsson