More than 300 schoolboys abducted last week by armed men in northwestern Nigeria have been freed, authorities have confirmed.
Boko Haram militants kidnapped hundreds of children from the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in northwestern Katsina state last Friday.
Around 800 students had been present at the school when it was attacked by armed men on December 11, with hundreds held captive by Abu Shekau’s jihadists.
Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari announced on Thursday that 344 boarding school students have now been turned over to security officials.
The boys will be brought to the capital of Katsina, where they will get physical examinations before being reunited with their families.
‘At the moment, 344 of the students have been released and handed over to the security operatives. I think we can say at least we have recovered most of the boys, if not all of them,’ he said.
The distraught teenager in the video released by Boko Haram on Thursday. Surrounded by dozens of younger boys, he speaks in English and Hausa saying: ‘We have been caught by the gang of Abu Shekau’
More than 300 schoolboys abducted last week by armed men in northwestern Nigeria have been freed, authorities have confirmed. Pictured: Video issued of the boys this week
Protesters marched in northwestern Nigeria on Thursday under a banner reading #BringBackOurBoys as pressure mounted on the government to secure their release
The Government will be ‘working with the police and also to engage private security firms to safeguard schools’ and prevent the ‘ugly experience of the last six days,’ Masari added.
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed their release, calling it ‘a big relief to their families, the entire country and to the international community.’
Buhari noted his administration’s successful efforts to secure the release of previously abducted students and added that the leadership ‘is acutely aware of its responsibility to protect the life and property of the Nigerians.’
‘We have a lot of work to do, especially now that we have reopened the borders,’ Buhari said, noting that the Northwest region ‘presents a problem’ that the administration ‘is determined to deal with.’
News of the release came hours after Boko Haram released footage of dozens of the abducted schoolboys. The militant group had already claimed responsibility for the incident.
In the clips, a distraught teenager, surrounded by dozens of younger boys, speaks in English and Hausa saying: ‘We have been caught by the gang of Abu Shekau.’
His voice starts to falter as he says: ‘Please, please, we need your assistance,’ while the other children shout out to the camera before the recording ends.
The video was released with a recording made by the group’s elusive leader Shekau.
Usama Aminu, 17 year-old, a kidnapped student of the Government Science Secondary School who escaped the attack is seen in Kankara, Nigeria on Wednesday
Shoes of the kidnapped students from Government Science Secondary School are seen inside their class room Kankara, Nigeria
Boko Haram terror chief Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday – he released a further audio clip on Thursday as they released footage of the boys
‘I earlier released an audio confirming our people did Allah’s work, but people denied it,’ the voice said. ‘Here are my men, and your children have spoken.’
Shekau, who was behind the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, released an audio clip earlier this week explaining why the boys had been kidnapped.
He said Boko Haram sought ‘to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy Prophet.’
More than 100 gunmen wielding AK-47s and riding motorcycles stormed the rural school north of Kankara town, forcing pupils to flee and hide in the surrounding bush.
Some were able to escape, but many were captured, split into groups and taken away, residents said.
Parents of the missing students have been gathering daily at the school in Kankara for news of their sons.
In this image made from an undated video provided by Boko Haram, the abducted schoolboys are seen in an undisclosed location
Nigerian soldiers drive past Government Science secondary school in Kankara on Wednesday
Boko Haram, and a splinter group the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), are waging an insurgency in Nigeria northeast and are thought to have only a minor presence in the northwest. However, Tuesday’s claim of responsibility marks a major turning point – suggesting that the Islamists have made major inroads into the northwest
The Government initially identified the attackers as bandits, who are known to use child soldiers. Earlier, Masari said 17 boys have been rescued since the initial abduction.
One of those who escaped, 17-year-old Usama Aminu said that they were forced to walk through the night by the militants before they let them sit down to rest.
Nigeria launched a rescue operation in which the police, air force and army tracked the kidnappers to their hideout in the Zango/Paula forest.
‘When the bandits heard the sound of the helicopter hovering above they asked us to lay down under the large trees with our face to the ground,’ Aminu said.
During their hike, Aminu said they met young boys in their teens, armed with guns. He said some were younger than him.
Aminu, who suffers from sickle cell anaemia, held onto the shoulders of two freinds during the trek ‘as the bandits continued to flog people from the back so that they can move faster.’
Parents of the missing Government Science secondary school students wait for news on their children in Kankara , Nigeria, Wednesday
Audu Musa, a security man stands in front of the Government Science Secondary School gate, where students were kidnapped last Friday
After dark, the boy decided to recite passages from the Quran. It was then that he managed to slip away unnoticed into the night and hide in a mosque.
A local resident eventually found him coughing and offered him a change of clothes so that he could leave his school uniform behind, he said.
He returned home at around 11pm on Sunday.
His father, Aminu Ma’le, said he was relieved but still worried for the others. ‘I cannot celebrate alone because of the other boys still missing,’ said the father.
Katsina state shut down all its boarding schools to prevent other abductions. The nearby states of Zamfara, Jigiwa and Kano also have closed schools as a precaution.
Armed bandits have killed more than 1,100 people since the beginning of the year in Nigeria’s northwest, according to Amnesty International.
School bags of the kidnapped student from Government Science Secondary School are seen inside their class room in Kankara
For more than 10 years, Boko Haram has engaged in a bloody campaign to introduce strict Islamic rule in Nigeria’s north.
Thousands have been killed and more than 1 million have been displaced by the violence.
Boko Haram has been mainly active in northeast Nigeria, but with the abductions from the school in Katsina state, there is worry the insurgency is expanding to the northwest.
The abduction is a chilling reminder of Boko Haram’s attacks on schools.
In February 2014, 59 boys were killed when the jihadists attacked the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe state.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from a government boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Borno state. About 100 of those girls are still missing.
In 2018, Boko Haram Islamic extremists brought back nearly all of the 110 girls they had kidnapped from a boarding school in Dapchi and warned: ‘Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.’