Demonstrators gather to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, December 17, 2020. REUTERS

Search and rescue operations are underway around the town of Jangebe in Zamfara state in northwest Nigeria on to 317 schoolgirls seized by unidentified gunmen of Friday.

Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, told Reuters the assailants came in firing sporadically during the 1 a.m. raid.

“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.

It was the third such kidnapping since December.  Gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in northwest Katsina state. They were freed after six days.

Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s raid.

The most notorious kidnapping happened in 2014 when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state.  About 100 are still missing, security officials say.

Observers say the rise in abductions is fuelled in part by ransoms paid by the government in exchange for child hostages.