Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels have claimed responsibility for the abduction of hundreds of pupils in an attack on a boys’ school in northern Katsina state, according to a Nigerian online newspaper.
More than 330 children are missing from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara after gunmen with assault rifles attacked their school on Friday night.
The Daily Nigerian said it received an audio message from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau saying his group abducted the schoolboys because Western education is against the tenets of Islam.
“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet,” the paper quoted Mr Shekau as saying.
There has been no independent verification of the audio message but Mr Shekau has in the past released video and audio messages on Boko Haram’s behalf.
Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement on Monday that “the kidnappers had made contact and discussions were already on, pertaining to the safety and return” of the children to their homes.
Mr Shehu said nothing about the identity of the abductors.
Several armed groups operate in north-western Nigeria, where Katsina state is located.
It was originally believed the attackers were bandits, who sometimes work with Boko Haram.
The government said a joint rescue operation was launched on Saturday by Nigeria’s police, air force and army after the military engaged in gunfights with bandits after locating their hideout in the Zango/Paula forest.
Many of the more than 600 male pupils were able to escape during the attack while police engaged in a gunfight, according to Katsina state police spokesman Gambo Isah.
Boko Haram has in the past abducted pupils from schools.
The most serious school attack took place in April 2014, when more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School in Chibok in north-eastern Borno State.
About 100 of the girls are still missing.
Boko Haram said at the time it wanted to stop women from attending schools.
The recent incident at the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara is the worst attack on a boys’ school since February 2014, when 59 were killed during a Boko Haram attack on the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe State.
Boko Haram and the breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province, are fighting to impose strict Islamic Shariah rule in Nigeria.
Thousands have been killed in the more than 10-year-old insurgency and more than a million people displaced.