More than 100 students at a Christian boarding school in Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna were kidnapped early Monday morning.
Shooting wildly, armed assailants breached the walls of Bethel Baptist High School in Maraban Rido on the outskirts of the state capital, Kaduna, at about 2 a.m. on July 5 and took students in the school hostel away at gunpoint, area residents told Morning Star News (MSN).
Efforts were still underway to determine exactly how many students were abducted. A Bethel teacher told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that 140 students were kidnapped while 25 students escaped, but area residents living close to the school told MSN that 179 children were abducted of which only 15 escaped.
Established by Bethel Baptist Church in Kaduna, a member church of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), the boarding school was attacked after kidnappers overcame security personnel, sources said.
The attack was the fourth mass school kidnapping in Kaduna state since December, according to AFP. World magazine recently examined the kidnapping surge, which the Nigerian government blames on bandits while many Christians blame Muslim Fulani extremists.
Related: Whispered Prayers, Hidden Bibles, Secretly Scribbled Verses: Inside the Resilient Faith of the #BringBackOurGirls Hostages – CT’s July/August 2021 cover story
Joseph Hayab, a Baptist pastor and chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said his son was among those who narrowly escaped.
“Right now I’m speechless,” Hayab told MSN. “The school is an educational ministry of my church. This is a very, very sad situation for us.”
“It is another sad moment as Fulani bandits/gunmen attacked Bethel Baptist,” area resident Christopher Kantoma told MSN in a text message.
Area resident Vincent Bodam said in a text message to MSN that parents and Christians rushed to the school and were wailing and praying for the rescue of the kidnapped students.
Omonigho Stella, another area resident, told MSN by text message, “Please let us pray for divine intervention.”
Nigeria leads the world in the number of kidnapped Christians, with 990 tallied by Open Doors.
In the watchdog’s 2021 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria broke into the top 10 for the first time, rising to No. 9 from No. 12 the previous year.
Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, the predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views; however, some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.
“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.
Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.
The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.
“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”
In December, the US State Department added Nigeria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Nigeria joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the list.
In the category of non-state actors, the State Department also designated Nigeria’s ISWAP and Boko Haram among other Islamist extremist groups as “Entities of Particular Concern.”
Also in December, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court called for an investigation into crimes against humanity in Nigeria.