Gunmen believed to belong to a criminal gang stormed a school in central Nigeria, killing one student and kidnapping hundreds of others along with some teachers, sources said Wednesday.
President Muhammadu Buhari, responding to a fresh abduction attack at a Nigerian school, ordered security forces to coordinate a rescue operation, his office said.
Heavily-armed gangs known locally as "bandits" in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
Late Tuesday, large numbers of gunmen dressed in military uniforms stormed the Government Science College (GSC) in the town of Kagara in Niger state before hauling students into a nearby forest, a government official and a security source said.
"Bandits went into GSC Kagara last night and kidnapped hundreds of students and their teachers," said the official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
"One of the kidnapped staff and some students managed to escape. The staff confirmed a student was shot dead during the kidnap operation," the official said.
President Buhari, 78, condemned the abduction and ordered security forces to coordinate an operation to rescue the students.
"The President has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives," presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement without giving details on the number of students missing.
Only two months ago, more than 300 students were kidnapped in Kankara, in nearby Katsina state.
The boys were later released after negotiations with government officials, but the incident sparked global outrage.
Kidnap gangs in Nigeria's northwest and central states are just one challenge in Africa's most populous country where security forces face jihadists in the northeast, ethnic clashes in central regions and pirate attacking container ships in the south.
The school targeted on Tuesday has around 1,000 students and it was not immediately clear how many were taken. Students were staying in dormitories at the school.
"A head count is underway to establish how many students were kidnapped," the security source said.
Troops with air support were tracking the bandits for a possible rescue operation, the source said.
On Tuesday, Niger state authorities said bandits also killed 10 people and kidnapped at least 23 others in attacks on two remote villages.
The region is increasingly a hub for criminal gangs who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and torching homes.
Bandits are known to hide in camps in Rugu forest, which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Despite the deployment of troops, deadly attacks persist.
The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings.
But there is growing concern they are being infiltrated by jihadists from the northeast who are waging a decade-old insurgency to establish an Islamic state.
The latest kidnapping incident comes nearly three years after 111 schoolgirls were snatched by jihadists in Dapchi and six years after 276 girls were taken from Chibok in a raid that shocked the world.
"Nigeria has to declare a state of emergency on insecurity," said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development think tank.
"The government must secure the schools and urgently too, or else (the) Chibok, Dapchi and Kankara school raids will encourage others to do worse."