In a short audio message, a man claiming to be a leader of Boko Haram said they were responsible for kidnapping over 300 schoolboys in northwestern Nigeria on Friday.

"I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina," said the man in the recording. Shekau is the leader of one of Boko Haram's groups.

Shekau's group was also behind the 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria. Their captivity lasted years, and many of the children were never returned after a negotiated release.

The message claimed that Boko Haram had targeted the school because of the group's goal to stop "western" education in northern Nigeria. “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices,” Shekau said in the audio recording. A Nigerian government spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the group targeted the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. While the school is in an area that’s considered outside of Boko Haram’s typical realm of operations, it’s believed that they’ve shifted regions after a security crackdown in the northeast of Nigeria.

boko haram kankara kidnapping

KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images

Government officials said it has been difficult to estimate the exact number of children missing as some students ran away during the attack and others escaped and made their way home over the weekend.

"Schools should be a place of safety and learning but for these boys and their families, it has turned into a nightmare," said Shannon Ward, Save the Children's acting country director in Nigeria. "This could have a deep impact on children -- not only the boys who were taken but also the ones who had to flee and hide from gun violence or those who saw what happened."

According to UNICEF, Boko Haram has abducted over 1,000 children since 2013.

We hope for the boys’ safe and immediate return. 

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