Hundreds of Nigerian students are missing after gunmen attacked a secondary school in the country’s north-western Katsina state, police have confirmed.

The Government Science Secondary School in Kankara was attacked on Friday night by a large group of bandits who opened fire “with AK 47 rifles”, Katsina State police spokesman Gambo Isah said.

Police engaged the attackers “in a gun duel which gave (some of) the students the opportunity to scale the fence of the school and run for safety”, he said.

About 400 students are missing, while 200 are accounted for, Mr Isah said. The school is believed to have more than 600 students.

Nigeria Students Kidnapped
The Government Science Secondary School in Kankar (Abdullatif Yusuf/AP)

“The police, Nigerian army, and Nigerian air force are working closely with the school authorities to ascertain the actual number of the missing and/or kidnapped students,” he added.

“Search parties are working with a view to find or rescue the missing students.”

A resident of the town, Mansur Bello, told the Associated Press that the attackers took some of the students away.

It is the latest attack on a school by gunmen in Nigeria.

The military, supported by airpower, has located the attackers’ enclave in Zango/Paula forest in the Kankara area, and there have been exchanges of gunfire in an ongoing operation, said President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured,” he added.

The most serious incident happened in April 2014, when members of the Jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school dormitory in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno State. About 100 of the girls are still missing.

The latest attack is believed to have been carried out by one of several groups of bandits active in north-western Nigeria. The groups are notorious for kidnapping people for ransom.