Nigeria's Boko Haram Tries to Kidnap Schoolgirls Again, but Finds School Empty

Teachers and pupils have escaped an attack by suspected Boko Haram terrorists at a school in Yobe state, according to reports.

Militants in pickup trucks arrived in the town of Dapchi on February 19, shooting and setting off explosives. Students from a local government college ran into the bush to escape the militants, who then entered the education facility and looted it.

Residents also sought shelter in the bush when militants set houses ablaze. Security forces later told local media the military had repelled the attack forcing the insurgents to flee.

A member of a local militia group fighting against the insurgents told news agency AFP the scope of the attack was to "abduct school girls, but luckily they found none of the girls as they were taken away by teachers before they arrived."

The attack took place weeks before Nigeria is set to mark the fourth anniversary since Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the Chibok village, in Borno state.

Militants seized nearly 300 schoolgirls in April 2014. Some of them managed to escape, others were released following negotiations with the government and third parties, and around 100 are still believed to be held captive.

"What Boko Haram has gained from kidnapping the Chibok girls is publicity and bargaining power with the Nigerian government, under pressure from the international community," counter-terrorist expert David Otto told Newsweek.

"Thus the group now believes that kidnapping children and girls is vital for its operational and strategic goals."

Chibok girls
Some of the released girls from Chibok wait in Abuja on May 8, 2017. The attack in Yobe took place weeks before Nigeria is set to mark the fourth anniversary since Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the Chibok village, in Borno state. STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images

Although the Chibok mass abduction was not the first one carried out by Boko Haram, it attracted international attention and cast light on the extent of the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring states.

Yobe is among the Nigerian states, along with Borno and Adamawa, that mostly bear the brunt of Boko Haram's deadly insurgency. The militants have been blamed for the death of at least 20,000 people and the displacement of up to 2.1 million people in the area, known as the Lake Chad region.

"Even though the military repelled the Yobe attack, the group still managed to loot and burn down buildings, leaving behind a real concern that Boko Haram may be in active search of a Chibok Girls 2.0," Otto said.

"This attempt is a 'hope killer' for those who have started taking the courage to return to school in the region.

On the other hand, it seems that people are beginning to have some confidence and a mechanism of reporting early warning signs to the military. And the military is responding on time," Otto concluded.

Fight against Boko Haram

Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in the territories it controls, has waged a war against Nigeria since 2009.

The Islamist outfit used to control territory the size of Belgium. However, Nigeria's ongoing military operation, Lafiya Dole, and a regional offensive—consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—have scored some successes, with soldiers recapturing key territories and releasing thousands of civilians held captive by the group.

In spite of the military's successes against the group, the fight against Boko Haram is not over, however.

The group reportedly killed three people in Adamawa state on January 16, just days after it was blamed for the death of at least 20 loggers in Borno.

The same day the suspects were freed, Boko Haram released a video purportedly showing some schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok. After four years of captivity, some of the girls said in the video that they did not want to go back home.

The footage, obtained by Sahara Reporters, also showed militant leader Abubakar Shekau refuting claims by officials that he had been wounded in battle.

Boko Haram
Children orphaned by Boko Haram Islamists play on a merry-go-round in an abandoned amusement park in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on April 27, 2017. In Maiduguri, where the population has doubled to over two million as a result of Boko Haram insurgency, thousands of children are homeless. FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP/Getty Images

The Nigerian government and army have often affirmed the fight against the group was over, only to have their claims dismissed by the group through videos or attacks.

Nigeria's President Muhammad Buhari, who has vowed his administration would finally defeat the terrorists, said in January that Nigeria "had beaten the group". Similarly to previous instances, Shekau dismissed the claim.

Boko Haram, allied with the Islamic State militant group, is today divided. The fraction occurred after ISIS replaced Shekau as leader with Abu Musab Al Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesperson.

Although split into at least two factions today, Boko Haram has continued its violent war to establish an Islamic state.

The Nigerian government stepped up de-radicalization efforts for militants willing to abandon the group in 2016.

Last year, more than 800 Boko Haram fighters participated in the de-radicalization program under the Safe Corridor Initiative, according to Nigeria's defense chief Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin.