Local vigilantes rescued dozens of schoolchildren abducted by bandits in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina after a gun battle, police said Sunday.
Gunmen had abducted about 80 children on Saturday as they returned to Mahuta village after having attended a religious ceremony, said police spokesman Gambo Isah, of Katsina state police.
The incident came barely 48 hours after the release of 344 schoolboys kidnapped from a boarding school by bandits and held for six days.
According to local people, the number of children rescued following Saturday’s attack came to 113.
When the news spread across Mahuta, residents and vigilantes mobilized and went after the kidnappers, said Abdullahi Sada, leader of a local vigilante group.
They set off in pursuit of the gunmen, who had been identified as ethnic Fulani herders.
“We laid siege on the area we knew they were holding the children and also took some Fulani settlements in the area hostage, warning that if anything happened to our children no Fulani would live in the area henceforth,” said Sada.
“They released 60 children around 3:00 am and this morning they called and said they had released the remaining 53 who are now being ferried from the bush,” he said.
The children, from various Islamic seminaries in the town, had been travelling in the company of their teachers when they were kidnapped, said one of the teachers who gave his first name Tijjani.
In April, armed bandits riding motorcycles killed 47 villagers when they raided Kasidau and nearby villages in Dandume district. In response, local people formed a local vigilante protection force to fight the bandits, which led to a series of tit-for-tat killings.
Northwest Nigeria has been terrorised by criminal gangs raiding villages, stealing cattle, kidnapping for ransom and burning homes after looting supplies.
The gangs also prey on travellers at bogus checkpoints on the highway, abducting them for ransom and killing them if they are not paid.
The bandits are known to hide in camps in Rugu forest which straddles Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger states in the region.
The earlier mass assault on schoolboys by armed men on a rural school in Kankara was initially blamed on criminal gangs who have terrorised the region for years.
But last Tuesday Boko Haram, the brutal jihadist group behind the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014, claimed responsibility.