344 Nigerian schoolboys released after mass kidnapping
The 344 students abducted last week by Boko Haram terrorists from Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State of Nigeria, have been regained their freedom.
President Muhammadu Buhari has confirmed that the students captured on December 11 were freed on Thursday, after a six-day ordeal.
"This is a huge relief to the entire country & international community," he said on Twitter.
Other Nigerian officials also confirmed the schoolboys' release although it was unclear if any more remained with their captors.
The assault last Friday on the rural school in northwest Nigeria was initially blamed on criminal gangs who have terrorised the region for years.
But on Tuesday Boko Haram, the brutal jihadist group behind the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014, claimed responsibility for the raid.
After a six-day ordeal, local officials said the boys had been released.
"344 are now with the security agencies and will be moved to Katsina this night," state governor Aminu Bello Masari said.
In an interview with state channel NTA, the governor added: "I think we have recovered most of the boys, it's not all of them."
Those who were released, "will be given proper medical attention and care before being reunited with their families," he added.
President Buhari said the release of the students indicated that the armed forces do their jobs well.
He said the collaboration between the military and the government yielded a good result and commended all those involved in the operation, saying the government will do its best to secure the release of all those held against their will across the country.
“The Governor of Katsina state and the army worked extremely hard. As soon as I got the information, I congratulated them. The Armed Forces know their job. They have been well-trained and properly-motivated,” the President said in a statement that Garba Shehu, his spokesman, issued on his behalf.
Buhari urged citizens to be patient and fair to the administration as it deals with insecurity, economic challenges and corruption.
Referring to a similar abduction on April 14, 2014, of 176 female students in Chibok, he said: “We made efforts that yielded the return of the Chibok Girls.’’
President Buhari also referred to a 2018 incident in which a breakaway faction of Boko Haram known as ISWAP abducted more than 100 girls in Dapchi. All but one girl were released weeks later, after negotiations.
“In Dapchi, we successfully returned all but one of the more than 100 abductees. When this latest incident happened, we put in efforts [that yielded good results],” he said.
He said the north west now presents a challenge which his administration is determined to deal with.
“We have a lot of work to do, especially now that we have re-opened the borders. It is unfortunate that bandits and terrorists continue to get weapons even with the border closure. We are going to dare them. We will deal with all that,” the President was quoted to have said.
He prayed for the full recovery of the students, whom he noted endured significant hardships on the six days.
Many students jumped over the school’s fence and fled when they heard gunshots after armed men went to the school in Kankara town last Friday evening.
Others were tracked by the gunmen, who tricked them into believing they were security personnel, students who escaped said.
Once the students were rounded up, they were marched into a nearby forest by the armed men.
It remained unclear if all the abducted schoolboys had been released, amid ongoing uncertainty over the number taken in the first place.
In a video released by Boko Haram Thursday, a distraught teenager said he was among 520 students kidnapped.
"No one can give the exact number of the children," a security source told AFP Thursday, saying the schoolboys were left in the forest after negotiations with the government.
"The children are being gathered in the town of Tsafe in Zamfara state and nearby Yankara in Katsina state."
"The actual number of freed children will only be known after a head count when they arrive (in the state capital) Katsina. Any figures given are a conjecture," the same source added.