Gunmen kidnapped 15 school children on their way to a private school near Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, a police spokesman said on Tuesday.

Abia state police spokesman Geoffrey Ogbonna said the gunmen stopped the school bus on Monday morning as it headed toward the Abayi International School. The gunmen seized all the mobile telephones from the students, the bus driver and a teacher onboard before taking the children away, the spokesman said.

Ogbonna said the kidnappers apparently demanded more than $130,000 to release the children. The spokesman said he did not know the identities of the kidnappers or the hostages. A spokesman for Nigeria’s federal police force in Abuja said the agency had sent additional investigators and officers to the region to assist in the search for the children.

Abia state, in Nigeria’s southeast, sits near the Niger Delta, a maze of mangroves and creeks where foreign oil firms draw crude in Africa’s most populous nation. The region has long been plagued by violence from militants upset about the region’s unceasing poverty and from opportunistic criminal gangs targeting foreigners for kidnappings.

Now, with oil firms keeping their workers hidden behind razor wire and under paramilitary protection, gangs have increasingly turned to middle-class Nigerian families. Middle-class children, as well as priests, politicians and doctors have been targeted by criminal gangs. Typically, most are released a week or two after their families pay whatever ransom they can scrape together.

Last week, pirates operating off the delta’s coast kidnapped three French oil workers and a Thai national. The workers have yet to be released.

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