279 Kidnapped Schoolgirls Freed In Nigeria
Participants display placards during a vigil in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2014 organized by Amnesty International in support of the abducted Nigerian school girls and their families. Nigeria's military was warned of an attack on a school in which more than 200 girls were abducted by Islamists but failed to act for nearly five hours, Amnesty International said on May 9. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

A Nigerian state governor announced on Tuesday that hundreds of girls who were kidnapped last week from a boarding school have been freed.

The Associated Press reported:

The girls, ages 10 and up, dressed in light blue hijabs and barefoot, packed into Zamfara state’s Government House conference room. They appeared calm, chatting to one another as they sat in long rows while journalists photographed them. They will receive a medical checkup before being returned to their parents.

Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle said that 279 girls had been released after being taken from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday. Last week, the government reported that 317 girls had been taken. The AP notes that it is not yet clear whether the higher number was a miscalculation or if there are still some girls who have not been returned.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students,” Matawalle said in a Twitter post on Tuesday. “I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.”

The country has recently faced a growing amount of kidnappings, some specifically targeted at school groups. Authorities claimed that “bandits” were responsible for the kidnapping last week. These bandits are “groups of armed men who operate in Zamfara state and kidnap for money or to push for the release of their members from jail,” according to the AP report.

One of the girls told the AP her experience of the kidnapping,

“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said. Officials ended the interview before the girl could give her name.

The attackers eventually found her and some classmates and held guns to their heads, she said.

“I was really afraid of being shot,” she said, adding that they asked for directions to the staff quarters and the principal. “We said we don’t know who she is.” 

Authorities did not reveal whether or not the bandits had been paid a ransom in order for the girls to be freed.

The governor said: “We have been in discussion since Friday with the abductors and reached agreement on Monday.” He added that there would be increased security at schools in the area.

Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement, saying, “I join the families and people of Zamfara state in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatized female students…Being held in captivity is an agonizing experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”

The president reportedly also warned that the use of ransoms will only add to the number of attacks and kidnappings.

Ernest Ereke, of the University of Abuja, said that paying criminals is giving perpetrators the ability to increase their reach and purchase more weapons.

“It is a lucrative venture in a country where a lot of young people are impoverished, jobless and hungry,” he said. “The state, which should confront these criminals, is enabling them by always pandering to their dictates. It should be the other way round, that is, the criminals should be scared of the state, but, in this case, it is the state that is scared of criminals.”

The well-known 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 girls gained international attention and sparked the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Over 100 of those girls remain missing, however.

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