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Catholic Church leaders in Nigeria are urging the release of 190 schoolgirls who are still missing, after last week’s mass abductions of 234 by suspected Boko Haram terrorists.
The girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in Borno State in the north of the country were kidnapped in Holy Week, after midnight on 14 April. Their abduction followed a missive bomb-blast in a bus station in Abuja, the capital, in which more than 70 people were killed and about 140 wounded.
“The abduction is most unfortunate and uncalled for,” Catholic Archbishop Alfred Martins of Lagos said in statement. Martins expressed his sadness at the escalating insecurity, while regretting that the terrorists were using religion to justify their actions.
His view is common among church leaders who have since united to urge the release of the students. On Tuesday desperate parents continued to search for children in a remote forest in the north as the church leaders urged the army to quickly find the girls.
The students aged between 16 and 18, were dragged from school by the gunmen and taken to an unknown destination. About 40 have since managed to escape, Revd Titus Pona, of the Christian Association of northern Nigeria was quoted as saying.
Since 2009 the Islamist terrorists have increased pressure on Christians in the north, bombing and attacking churches, alongside government installations and institutions.
“We are pleading with our brothers and kinsmen in the Boko Haram to… have sympathy on the innocent children, our daughters, and release them to their family,” Revd Pona told journalists in Maiduguri.
According to Fr John Bakeni, the secretary of the Maiduguri Catholic diocese in Borno, Boko Haram has been difficult to defeat because it has sympathisers in the higher ranks of society.