Kankara (Nigéria) (AFP)
More than 300 Nigerian schoolchildren were released Thursday after being kidnapped in an attack claimed by Boko Haram, officials said, although it is not clear whether there were still any left with their captors.
Last Friday’s assault on a rural school in Kankara, Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria was initially blamed on criminal gangs that have terrorized the area for years.
But on Tuesday, Boko Haram, the brutal jihadist group behind the kidnapping 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 tonight,” said state governor Aminu Bello Masari.
In an interview with public broadcaster NTA, the governor added, “I think we’ve got most of the boys back, not all of them. ”
Those who have been released “will receive appropriate medical attention and care before being reunited with their families,” he added.
“This is a huge relief for the whole country and the international community,” President Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter.
However, it remains unclear whether all of the abducted schoolchildren have been released, amid lingering uncertainty as to which number was taken in the first place.
In a video released by Boko Haram on Thursday, a distraught teenager said he was among 520 students kidnapped.
“No one can give the exact number of children,” a security source told AFP on Thursday, saying the schoolchildren had remained in the forest after negotiations with the government.
“The children are gathered in the town of Tsafe in Zamfara state and near Yankara in Katsina state. ”
“The actual number of released children will only be known after a count when they arrive (in the state capital) in Katsina. All figures given are a guess, ”added the same source.
– Alliance of ‘bandits and terrorists’ –
Sources previously told AFP that the raid was carried out by a well-known local criminal, Awwalun Daudawa, in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other well-followed crime leaders acting on behalf of Boko. Haram.
Experts recently warned that the jihadists – operating in the northeast of the country, hundreds of kilometers from where Friday’s attack took place – were trying to forge an alliance with criminal gangs in the north. Where is.
President Buhari’s official spokesperson Garba Shehu said on Twitter that “the northwest is now a challenge that his administration is determined to meet.”
“It is unfortunate that bandits and terrorists continue to procure weapons even under the circumstances of the border closure. We will challenge them. ”
Many parents of missing students in Kankara said they had long feared an attack, given the escalation of violence in the area.
“Our children told us that armed men would come to the school fence, but they never crossed the fence… until last Friday,” said Hauwa’u Isah, mother of an abducted child.
About 8,000 people have been killed in the northwest since 2011, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
#BringBackOurBoys started trending on social media earlier this week, in reference to a similar hashtag after the Chibok kidnappings.
Small protests to push for the boys’ release took place in Katsina on Thursday as Buhari traveled to the state.
“The reason we are here today is because we want to tell the federal government that what it is doing is not enough,” protester Jamilu Aliyu Turanci said.
“Mr. President has let us down. ”
© 2020 AFP