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Terrorists release hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian students as Christians remain vulnerable

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ZAMFARA, Nigeria (BP) – A surge in school kidnappings in northwestern Nigeria is blamed loosely on bandits rather than clearly defined Islamic terrorist groups, according to news reports, but puts Christians at greater risk of harm than Muslims.

At least one Christian student was killed in a recent spate of kidnappings blamed on bandits, Morning Star News reported. Morning Star identified Benjamin Habila, whom bandits shot dead as he tried to escape, as one of at least eight Christians among 43 people abducted Feb. 17 from the Government Science College in Rafi county, Niger state.

“A Christian student, Benjamin Habila, was shot dead by the bandits as he tried to escape from them, while seven other Christian students and staffs were captured alongside other non-Christian students, staff and their family members,” Morning Star quoted resident Justina Aliyu Feb. 22. “They were taken away at gunpoint into forests.” The remaining 42 captives were released Feb. 27.

Bandits, some of whom falsely claimed in videos to be members of Boko Haram, are blamed for at least four kidnappings in Kamfara, Katsina and Niger states – predominantly Muslim areas – since late December 2020. About 600 students and others have been released in these kidnappings. Most recently, unidentified abductors released 279 schoolgirls Tuesday (Mar. 2), who were kidnapped Feb. 26 from their boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state, BBC News reported.

“Most of us got injured,” BBC quoted one of the schoolgirls, who were forced to walk on foot into forestland after the nighttime kidnapping. Such kidnappings are becoming common by bandits who seek ransoms, according to many news reports.

“Kidnapping for ransom is a widespread criminal enterprise across the country – people are seized by gunmen on almost a daily basis – with both the rich and the poor falling victims,” BBC said in an analysis. “Security personnel have been held too. People often speak of how they have managed to secure someone’s release by raising funds from friends and relatives – or even selling their assets.”

After the kidnapping of nearly 350 schoolboys Dec. 11 from the Government Science Secondary School in Katsina, International Christian Concern said such kidnappings put Christians at greater risk of harm. Local government officials negotiated with the bandits for the schoolboys, who were released Dec. 17.

“It is also unclear if any of the children taken were Christians. If any of them are, it is likely that they will be treated differently than those who are already Muslims,” ICC said in a press release. ICC referenced the 2018 kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, when all were released except the lone Christian student Leah Sharibu, who is still being held captive nearly three years later because she refused to convert to Islam. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram, kidnapped the Dapchi girls.

Boko Haram and ISWAP are more active in northeast Nigeria than northwest, where the latest kidnappings have occurred.

Among the most publicized kidnappings, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in the mostly Christian community of Chibok. Many were released, but more than 100 are still missing.