An audio message from a man identifying himself as the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram said on Tuesday that the Islamist group was responsible for the kidnapping of more than 300 students from an all-boys school in the northwestern state of Katsina.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, has waged an insurgency in the northeast of Nigeria since 2009 but has not previously claimed any attacks over to the northwest.
The man purporting to be the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, offered no proof for the claim. Reuters was unable to verify the audio and Nigerian authorities did not immediately comment.
In a region where criminal gangs often rob and kidnap civilians for ransom, gunmen took the boys from the Government Science school in Kankara town on Friday. Katsina state authorities say some managed to escape but around 320 were still missing.
“We are behind what happened in Katsina,” said the man in the audio, which reached Reuters via a Whatsapp message.
“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy prophet.”
No video footage was released of the missing boys.
Spokesmen for the presidency, police and army did not immediately respond to messages and calls seeking comment.
Analysts have warned that West Africa’s porous borders mean other Islamist groups operating in the wider Sahel region could form alliances with jihadists in northeast Nigeria.
Boko Haram carried out the 2014 kidnap of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok. Since then, about half of those girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos, and an unknown number are believed to have died.
More than 30,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram began its insurgency, which aims to create an Islamic state.