Pope Francis condemned on Sunday the kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria last week as “vile”.

“I join the bishops of Nigeria in condemning this vile abduction of 317 young girls,” the pope said following his weekly Sunday Angelus address to the Catholic faithful on Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

“Let us pray for these girls, so that they may return home quickly.”

Several hundred girls are still missing after a raid by suspected armed bandits on a school hostel on Friday in Zamfara, northwest Nigeria.

Heavily armed criminal gangs in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.

Islamist fighters in the northeast had previously shocked the world by snatching hundreds of girls from their schools, as part of an attack on supposedly western education practices.

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