BREAKING NEWS – LAGOS, Nigeria
Boko Haram extremists returned most of the 110 girls they kidnapped from their school in northeastern Nigeria a month ago, the Nigerian government said Wednesday.
Fighters from the militant group drove into the northern town of Dapchi in nine vans and dropped the girls off, just after Nigerian soldiers were withdrawn, said Alhaji Baba Shehu, a resident, and other witnesses.
“(Some) girls ran away to their home before being counted,” he said. “Still, we are happy. God has answered our prayers and our daughters are back.”
Nigeria’s government said 101 of the 110 schoolgirls had been confirmed freed and that the number “would be updated after the remaining ones have been documented,” the Associated Press reports.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the release was obtained through “back-channel efforts,” “a pause in operations” and with the help of “some friends of the country.”
A month ago, Boko Haram attacked the Government Girls Science Technical College attended by the girls, part of an ongoing campaign in northern Nigeria to terrorize schools and villages: The group’s name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
As the extremists dropped the girls off Wednesday, they told residents: “This is a warning to you all,” according to the AP. “We did it out of pity. And don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”
The government earlier this week had already moved to close down boarding schools in the area out of fear of further kidnappings.
Hajiya Aisa Bukar, 35 whose daughter Aisha Kachalla was among those that returned, said she was moved beyond words to see her daughter.
“I’m more than excited,” Bukar said. “I’m so happy to be with my daughter.”
Bukar said she took her daughter to a hospital in Dapchi before the Nigerian military took the girls into their custody.
Residents and parents have become angry over the past month at the way the government handled the latest kidnapping: It initially denied the students were abducted, then told parents the day after the kidnappings the girls had mostly been released.
On Tuesday, an Amnesty International report accused the Nigerian military of failing to listen to multiple warnings of an imminent attack. The military claimed the report was not true.
The Nigerian army claimed last year that Boko Haram had been defeated in military terms, although not eliminated.
Last month’s abduction brought back painful memories of the 2014 attack on a boarding school in Chibok. Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls, 100 of whom remain missing.
Hundreds of thousands of people called for action using #BringBackOurGirls on social media after that kidnapping, and then-first lady Michelle Obama held up a sign bearing the slogan. Hundreds of thousands also signed a Change.org petition calling for the girls to be returned.
Bukar said she was on the ground to witness the arrival of the Boko Haram convey of vans who dropped the girls around the Dapchi market square. They were clearly unafraid and in control, she said.
“One of them waved a black flag with Islamic inscription,” she said. “They stopped to take pictures with our youth.”