LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen seized three student priests from a Catholic seminary in Nigeria’s northwest Kaduna state, police and school authorities said Tuesday.
The assailants stormed the Christ The King Major Seminary late Monday night and opened fire at the cafeteria where five of the students were sitting after dinner, according to the Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
“Before they (the students) knew it, these gunmen came, surrounded them and picked them. It was later that they released two and went away with three,” Hayab said.
Police spokesman Mohammad Jalige told AP that security forces have been deployed “to comb the nearby bushes” and try to rescue the three seminarians abducted.
Six seminarians were injured in the attack, according to school officials.
The school is located in the St. Albert Institute For Higher Education which mostly houses seminarians preparing for the Catholic priesthood. The three students taken captive are in their fourth and final year of classes before becoming priests.
The school is about 230 kilometers (142 miles) from Kaura rural area in Kaduna, where at least 40 residents were killed when bandits stormed remote villages in the area two weeks ago.
Kaduna, like most of Nigeria’s northwest and central states, has seen a spike in violent attacks by armed groups operating in remote forests. The gunmen are mostly young men from the Fulani ethnic group who were previously cattle herders and are caught up in a decades-long conflict with Hausa farming communities over access to water and grazing land, say security experts.
Nigeria’s security forces are already overstretched by a decade-long war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast part of the country. Last week the military launched special security operations across the country to try to restore peace in violent hotspots.