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The Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, in Afaka, Nigeria, on March 12. 2021.

AP Photo/The Associated Press

Gunmen have attacked a school in northwestern Nigeria and kidnapped 39 students just weeks after a similar mass abduction in the region, authorities said Friday.

The latest kidnapping took place late Thursday night at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, in the Igabi local government area of Kaduna state, police said.

“The number of missing students is now confirmed to be 39, comprising 23 females and 16 males,” said Samuel Aruwan, Commissioner for Kaduna State Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, said in a statement. Several school staff were also kidnapped, he added.

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Aruwan said the attack was carried out by a large group of “armed bandits,” adding that the military engaged the attackers and were able to take 180 staff and students to safety.

An unspecified number of the students were injured and are receiving medical attention at a military facility. Security forces “are conducting an operation to track the missing students,” Aruwan said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the abduction and called for “the immediate and unconditional release of those students that remain in captivity,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The UN chief urged authorities to ensure that schools “remain a safe space for children to learn without fear of violence or kidnapping or any other attacks on them,” Dujarric said.

Nigerian authorities also said that “bandits” were behind the earlier abduction of 279 schoolgirls late last month in the northwest, referring to the groups of armed men who kidnap for money or to press for the release of jailed members of their groups. Those girls were later freed following negotiations with the government, and it is not known whether a ransom was paid.

The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is also known to kidnap young women and force them into marriage, most notably in the 2014 attack on the Chibok secondary school in Borno state. That mass abduction sparked an international outcry and prompted the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Of the 276 girls taken, more than 100 are still missing nearly seven years later.

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