Nigerian military troops exchanged gunfire with about 100 gunmen in an attempt to rescue about 300 children who had been kidnapped from the Government Science School in Kankara, Nigeria.

The gunmen arrived on motorcycles and attacked the school on Friday. Many of the children fled and hid in the woods surrounding the area, but nearly half of them were rounded up, split into smaller groups, and taken by the gunmen. The school normally serves about 800 children.

Musa Adamu, a student at the school, said that he and several classmates jumped out of windows as soon as the gunfire erupted. “We headed to the fence and climbed on it and jumped down,” he said to CNN. “The gunshots sound got louder, we ran in different directions … into the forest. Most of us had no shoes on, and we kept running until we got tired and the sound of the gunshots faded.”

Government troops located the attackers and engaged in a running firefight with them aided by air support, according to President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement. 

Initially, it was thought that the attack was the work of bandits, who are prevalent in the Kankara region where kidnappings for ransom are common. But according to AFP News agency, the Boko Haram terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

An audiotape was released by Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, on Tuesday. “I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” it said. “Boko Haram” is generally translated as “Western education is forbidden.” The group’s ideology is to create an Islamic state, to drive out any Western influences, and develop strict Sharia law.  

Boko Haram had kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok back in 2014 in a similar type of attack. Over 100 of those girls are still missing. It has frequently kidnapped other children from schools in an effort to stop western education and indoctrinate the children in its educational model.

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However, some government officials believe that Boko Haram may not actually be involved in the kidnapping. They point to the lack of details given in Shekau’s announcement. The Guardian reports that government officials in Katsina have already received ransom demands from the bandits that are known to operate in the area. The bandits may have transferred some of the kidnapped children to Boko Haram in exchange for money or weapons. 

Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are very active in the northwest part of Nigeria, waging a brutal insurgency against the government. And the Islamic insurgents have close relationships with bandits who operate in the region. The bandits regularly target citizens traveling on roads. They rustle cattle and attack farming communities. Yet, their attacks have never been on such a large scale. 

The close relationship between the insurgents and the bandits may have become even closer. Al Jazeera cited a video, which was made by fighters claiming to be located in the northwest corner of Nigeria, pledging allegiance to Boko Haram and their leader. 

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for António Guterres the Secretary-General of the United Nations, released a statement saying that “The Secretary-General reaffirms the solidarity and support of the United Nations to the government and people of Nigeria in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime.”

Meanwhile, the parents of the kidnapped schoolboys have taken to social media, tweeting #BringBackOurBoys.