More than 300 students remain missing after gunmen attacked an all-boys school in northwestern Nigeria on Friday. Though the search has continued throughout the weekend, authorities have expressed their fears that many of the schoolboys are either in captivity or dead after attempting to flee to safety.
As was previously reported by Al Jazeera, attackers on motorcycles stormed the Government Science School over the weekend and forced hundreds of students to flee and hide in the surrounding forest after battling with the school’s security forces in a flurry of gunfire.
Though no group has at present claimed responsibility for the assault, the region is known to be an area rife with members of the militant organization Boko Haram, which desires to impose strict Islamic law across the continent. Moreover, the onslaught closely mirrors other campaigns by the group, which began in 2009 and shot to fame after the hashtag #bringbackourgirls brought attention to a similar situation. The internet campaign became so popular that then-First Lady Michelle Obama participated in the movement.
A similar campaign went viral in Nigeria over the weekend, with citizens of the African nation using the hashtag #bringbackourboys.
That said, some experts have expressed their opinion that the attack was more likely the work of bandits in the region.
“These states [such as Katsina] in northwestern Nigeria are known to have serious attacks by bandits, uncoordinated groups that don’t really have any malign intention against the state, or are trying to impose any policy on … the state like we have with Boko Haram,” claimed Ovigwe Eguegu, geopolitical and security analyst at Afripolitika.
“These are just criminal elements operating freely in northwestern Nigeria,” he added.
For families in the region, the focus remains less on the perpetrators and more on finding the 333 boys who remain missing. While there is a strong belief that they are alive but kidnapped, others have voiced concerns that many children have hidden out in the woods and need to be rescued quickly before more harm can occur.
Meanwhile, the nation’s defense ministry has promised to get the children home safely.
“We will go the whole hog,” declared Major General Bashir Salihi-Magash. “We have the intelligence, the information [of] where they are.”
However, many parents are less than optimistic about the future.
“We don’t see the value of the government. I have a younger brother and a child taken by the kidnappers… I’ve been here in the school since dawn and yet there’s no update,” lamented Bint’a Ismail, mother of an abducted child.