Kano – Police in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state have freed 21 schoolchildren kidnapped by gunmen on Friday, a spokesperson said.
“The police operatives succeeded in rescuing 21 kidnapped children” after a gun battle with the criminals, Zamfara police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement issued late Saturday.
Central and northwestern Nigeria are home to criminal gangs, known locally as “bandits”, who attack villages, steal livestock and kill residents.
On Friday, New Year’s Eve, the so-called bandits barricaded a main road and abducted an “unspecified number” of travellers including schoolchildren, Shehu said.
At around 2200 GMT, a team of police and soldiers responded to a “distress call” from residents in Kucheri village, located near a major road.
They said bandits had set up a roadblock and kidnapped passengers from five buses, including the one carrying the students.
The students, accompanied by their teacher, were on their way to an Islamic seminary in the neighbouring state of Katsina.
Several other passengers, including the teacher and the driver of their bus, were also taken hostage by the gunmen, the statement added.
Shehu called on people in the area not to travel at night, when roadblocks and kidnappings are most common.
In recent months, bandits have brazenly targeted travellers on roads and targeted schools for ransom.
To evade the authorities, the gangs have established camps in the Rugu forest, which straddles the northwestern states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger.
Military operations, amnesties offered by the authorities and the cutting of mobile networks have not been able to stem the violence.
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