Nigerian gunmen raided a college in a northwestern state and at least 30 students are feared kidnapped, a senior government official said Friday, in the latest abduction targeting a school.
The suspected kidnap gang stormed the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Mando, Kaduna state, around 9:30pm (2030 GMT) on Thursday, shooting indiscriminately and taking students hostage.
The college was said to have some 300 male and female students -- mostly aged 17 and older -- at the time of the attack.
Kaduna state commissioner for internal security Samuel Aruwan said 30 of the students were missing while the army was able to rescue 180 people after a fierce battle with the gunmen.
"The troops successfully rescued 180 citizens; 42 female students, eight staff and 130 male students," Aruwan said in a statement.
"However, about 30 students, a mix of males and females, are yet to be accounted for."
The commissioner said some of the rescued students were injured during the operation and had been hospitalised in a military facility.
Heavily-armed gangs in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
The bandits are recently turning their attention on schools where they kidnap students or schoolchildren for ransom -- Thursday's was at least the fourth such attack since December.
The police and local residents had earlier confirmed Thursday's incident but could not disclose how many students were seized.
- Late night gunfire -
Residents also heard repeated gunshots in the area late on Thursday.
"We kept hearing gunshots which we ignored as shooting drills from the Nigeria Defence Academy which is a stone-throw from the forestry college," said Mustapha Aliyu, who lives in the area.
"It was only when we came out for the morning prayers in the mosque that we learnt it was gunmen who took away students from the college," he said.
The area is notorious for banditry and armed robbery, especially along the highway linking the city with the airport.
The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings. Victims are often released shortly after negotiations though officials always deny any ransom payments.
On Saturday, criminal gangs known locally as bandits broke into the staff quarters of the nearby Kaduna airport, abducting 12 people, according to airport officials.
On February 27, gunmen abducted 279 schoolgirls in nearby Zamfara state.
A week earlier, gunmen seized 42 people, including 27 students from an all-boys boarding school in central Niger state.
In December, hundreds of schoolboys were seized in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari's home state while he was on a visit.
The US has condemned the recent attacks on schools.
"Frankly, we're disgusted by this pattern of mass abductions of school kids. I can think of nothing more abhorrent," Michael Gonzales, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs told a press briefing.
He said the US "is ready to provide appropriate support to the Nigerian government if requested to do so."