The Nigerian government said on Thursday it had secured the release of over 340 student hostages abducted by the Islamic terror group Boko Haram last week.
A large number of unidentified gunmen ambushed the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, a town in northern Nigeria’s Katsina state, on the night of December 11, abducting hundreds of students. The Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack and kidnapping on December 15.
“Nigerian soldiers and government officials that were involved in the negotiation for the release of the kidnapped schoolboys have told us that the whole school children have been released, 344 of them,” the governor of Nigeria’s Katsina state, Aminu Masari, told a DWTV Hausa reporter Thursday night, Nigeria’s Premium Times reported.
“At the moment, we have arranged for vehicles to transport them from where they are to the state capital, Katsina. From then, we will pass them through to doctors to diagnose them,” he added.
“Those involved in the negotiation include my adviser, some top military and police operatives, members of Miyetti Allah; (they) where all involved in the negotiation [sic],” Masari said.
When asked by the reporter if the government paid a ransom for the schoolboys’ release, Masari said no money had been exchanged.
“We did not pay ransom to the kidnappers, it was purely negotiation,” he said. The governor did not disclose the specific terms of the negotiation, nor what the kidnappers received in return for freeing the students.
Masari also said that the kidnappers were not members of Boko Haram, despite the Nigerian terror group claiming responsibility for the abduction earlier this week.
“They are bandits who kidnapped the schoolboys, not Boko Haram,” he claimed.
The Katsina state governor said authorities planned to reunite the freed schoolboys with their parents after they undergo medical evaluations.
News of the students’ release broke on Thursday shortly after Boko Haram released a hostage video purporting to show the kidnapped schoolboys just hours earlier.
The Associated Press (AP) said on Friday that some of its journalists watched the more than six-minute long video, in which “the apparent captors tell one boy to repeat their demands that the government call off its search for them by troops and aircraft.”
“The video circulated widely on WhatsApp and first appeared on a Nigerian news site, HumAngle, that often reports on Boko Haram,” according to the AP.
A kidnapped student named Usama Aminu managed to escape the hostage situation on December 13. The 17-year-old told the AP “that his captors wore military uniforms. He said he also saw gun-toting teens, some younger than him, aiding the attackers.”
Speaking to Voice of America’s Hausa service earlier this week Aminu said that the captors forced an older student to conduct a headcount of the hostage group on December 12. “He counted 520,” the teenager said.
The total number of students taken hostage by the kidnappers on December 11 remains unconfirmed. Katsina state governor Masari said on December 13 that just 333 students were missing following the attack. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust said on December 14 that after studying the school register and interviewing school sources it determined that at least 668 students remained unaccounted for.
Nigerian government officials said earlier this week that the nation’s police, army, and air force tracked the kidnappers to a hideout in the Zango/Paula forest.
Boko Haram kidnapped at least 276 female students from a government school dormitory in northeastern Nigeria’s Chibok in 2014; most of the girls remain missing today. The Chibok abduction took place in Boko Haram’s stronghold of Borno State, where the terror group has waged an Islamist insurgency involving several deadly attacks over the past decade.