Nigerian security forces on Thursday said they were tracking the armed gang that kidnapped more than 40 people from a school a day earlier, after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a rescue operation.

The abduction in Kagara in central Niger state was the latest mass kidnapping in Nigeria, where criminal gangs known as “bandits” have stepped up attacks.

Heavily-armed men in military uniforms raided the Government Science College in Kagara early Wednesday, killing one student and spiriting others into a nearby forest.

Kidnappers snatched 42 people, including 27 students, three teachers and other relatives of school staff, according to Niger state officials.

The Nigerian army said it was working with other security agencies to safely return the kidnap victims.

“We are doing whatever we can to free the students and the teachers,” Nigerian state information commissioner Muhammad Sani Idris told AFP.

“They are being pressed. We have security agents on their heels. We are hoping we will rescue the students in a very short time.”

Kidnappers have made no ransom request and authorities would not pay any, he said.

The Kagara school was closed up on Thursday and the town was quiet, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

Armed men attacked Gurmana, another town in Niger state, on Wednesday night, killing two people and abducting several others, Ibrahim Audu Hussein, Niger emergency management agency spokesman told AFP.

The latest mass abduction came just two months after 300 students were kidnapped from a school in Kankara in nearby Katsina, Buhari’s home state, while the president was visiting the region.

The boys were later released after negotiations with government officials, but the incident triggered outrage and memories of the kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls by jihadists in Dapchi and Chibok that shocked the world.

Kidnappings are just one security challenge facing Buhari in Africa’s most populous country, where militants are waging a jihadist insurgency in the northeast and ethnic tensions are simmering in some southern regions.

Northwest and central Nigeria have increasingly a hub for large criminal gangs who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and torching homes.

Bandits operate out of camps in Rugu forest, which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Nigerian forces have deployed there but attacks and mass kidnappings persist.

The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings.

But there are concerns they are being infiltrated by jihadists who are fighting out a decade-old conflict that has killed more than 30,000 people and spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

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