Thirty-five Nigerian police officers deployed to a training academy in the remote northeast are missing after a Boko Haram attack on the facility earlier this week, a spokesman said Saturday.
The Islamists attacked the academy just outside the town of Gwoza on Wednesday. Boko Haram seized Gwoza earlier this month, but the military has said it is preparing an offensive to retake the town in Borno state.
“Thirty-five policemen who are still missing from the facility as a result of the latest attack are being searched for with very promising prospects of locating them,” national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said in a statement.
He separately told AFP that it was premature to speculate on whether the officers had been taken hostage by the militants who have kidnapped hundreds of people during a five-year uprising.
Some may have been killed with their bodies not yet found while others may have ran to safety during the Islamist onslaught but have not yet reported their whereabouts, Ojukwu said.
He added it was possible that some had been abducted but that investigations were ongoing.
Boko Haram, blamed for more than 10,000 deaths since 2009, has repeatedly targeted the police and the military throughout an insurgency aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in the north. The crisis has intensified in recent months.
Boko Haram is believed to be in control of large swathes of territory in Borno, its historic stronghold, as well as at least one town in neighbouring Yobe state.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast in May of last year and the military launched a massive operation to flush out the Islamists, which showed some initial success.
But analysts say top brass failed to sustain the pressure, allowing Boko Haram to regroup and recapture a group of towns and key roads in the region.