ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Security forces swept through large forests in Nigeria’s northwest region on Friday in search of nearly 300 children who were abducted from their school a day earlier in the latest mass kidnap, which analysts and activists blamed on the failure of intelligence and slow security response.

The abduction of the 287 children in Kaduna state, near the West African nation’s capital, is one of the largest school kidnaps in the decade since the issue was highlighted by the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Borno state’s Chibok village. Analysts and activists say the security lapses that allowed that mass abduction remain.

The victims of the latest attack — among them at least 100 children aged 12 or under — were surrounded and marched into a forest just as they were starting the school day, said locals in Kuriga town, located 55 miles (89 kilometers) from the city of Kaduna. One man was shot dead as he tried to save the students, school authorities said.

As Kaduna Gov. Uba Sani and security officials met with aggrieved villagers on Thursday, they pleaded with the governor to ensure the release of the students and secure their villages.

“Please stay and help us, please don’t leave us,” one woman cried as the governor’s convoy sped off.

The school — located with no fencing close to nearby forests that often serve as enclaves for armed gangs — was “surrounded from all angles” by the motorcycle-riding gunmen who arrived at the school just after 8 a.m., said Joshua Madami, a youth leader in the area.

Security forces did not arrive at the scene until several hours later, locals said, prompting concerns from families and analysts that the gunmen might have gone deep into the forest with the children.

Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst with the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence firm, said such delayed response is common and worsens the situation in violence hotspots, in addition to the failure to act on intelligence.

“I am confident that the victims will be rescued. Nothing else is acceptable to me and the waiting family members,” said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was elected last year after promising to end the violence.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks but locals blamed it on the bandits who carry out frequent mass killings and abductions for huge ransoms in remote villages across Nigeria’s northwest and central regions.

The bandits are mostly herders who had been in conflict with host communities and are different from the Islamic extremist rebels who had abducted more than 200 people, mostly women and children, in recent days.

School abductions across northern Nigeria have reduced since early last year but the structural conditions enabling them have remained, said James Barnett, a researcher specializing in West Africa at the U.S.-based Hudson Institute. The bandits, he said, have focused on consolidating their influence over rural communities often in the form of levies.

“Since the start of the year, we’ve seen the bandits being more aggressive,” said Barnett. “This attack may be an attempt by some of the gangs to signal to the government that they can turn back the clock to 2021, when mass kidnappings led to a wave of school closures across the northwest.”

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