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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Nigeria confirms 110 girls missing after Boko Haram school attack

The kidnapping has raised questions about the military's repeated claims that the militants are on the verge of defeat after nearly nine years of bitter fighting

Relatives are seen during a condolence visit to the mother of one of the abducted girls in Jumbam Village, Yobe State, Nigeria on February 24, 2018. Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters
Relatives are seen during a condolence visit to the mother of one of the abducted girls in Jumbam Village, Yobe State, Nigeria on February 24, 2018. Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

The Nigerian government has confirmed that 110 girls are missing after a Boko Haram school attack in the north-east, following days of silence on the children's fate.

The students from the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, "are so far unaccounted for, after insurgents believed to be from a faction of Boko Haram invaded their school" on February 19, the information ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The kidnapping has raised questions about the military's repeated claims that the militants are on the verge of defeat after nearly nine years of bitter fighting.

It has also revived memories of the 2014 mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok that shook the world.

On the night of February 19, terrified pupils fled the boarding school when heavily armed fighters stormed the town.

The authorities initially denied that any student had been kidnapped.

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On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari apologised to the girls' families, saying: "This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened."

Former military ruler Mr Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, after the extremists grew in strength under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.

Mr Jonathan was lambasted for his tardy response to the Chibok abduction, which saw 276 girls from the town in Borno state taken in the dead of night.

A teacher at the school, Amsani Alilawan, said there were soldiers in Dapchi until last month, but they were then redeployed.

"One month back, they carry [take away] all soldiers, they transferred them to another side, they leave us without security," he said.

Enraged relatives of the missing girls this week tried to surround the convoy of the state mayor of Yobe, only to be pushed back by the security forces.

The kidnapping is the worst extremist assault to have hit Nigeria since Mr Buhari came to power.

Schools, particularly those with a secular curriculum, have been targeted by Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates from Hausa as "Western education is forbidden".

Boko Haram's quest to establish an extremist state in north-east Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead and made more than 2.6 million homeless since 2009.

The extremists have increasingly turned to kidnapping for ransom as a way to finance their operations and win back key commanders in prisoner swaps with the Nigerian government.