ROME — Kidnappers reportedly released over 300 schoolgirls in northwest Nigeria on Sunday after abducting them at their boarding school late Thursday night.
Over 100 armed gunmen stormed the Jangebe secondary school in Zamfara state around midnight Thursday, carrying them off to a forest between Dangulbi and Sabon Birnin Banaga where they held the girls hostage until Sunday.
According to Italy’s RAI News, the girls are now in the palace of the Emir of Anka and await transport to Gusau, the state capital. It is unclear at this point whether a ransom was paid to secure the girls’ release, but often in these cases the government has privately paid off the kidnappers.
Vatican News reported that a Nigerian government official has confirmed reports of the girls’ release on national television, but other news services — including the BBC — have denied the reports, insisting the girls are still in captivity. The BBC cited Zamfara State Commissioner of Security and Home Affairs Abubakar Dauran in their denial of reports of the girls’ liberation.
At noon Sunday, Pope Francis denounced the “vile abduction” of the schoolgirls, promising prayers and closeness to the families.
“I join my voice with that of the Bishops of Nigeria to condemn the vile abduction of 317 girls, taken away from their school, to Jangebe, in the northwest of the country,” the pope said following his weekly Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.
“I pray for these girls, that they may return home soon,” the pontiff continued. “I am close to their families and to the girls themselves.”
The pope concluded by entrusting the safekeeping of the kidnapped girls to the Virgin Mary, inviting the pilgrims present in the square to join him in praying a Hail Mary for their safe return.
As Breitbart News reported Friday, abductions of adolescents in central and northwestern Nigeria by “bandits” have become frequent.
A similar attack took place on February 16 in a secondary school in Kagara, Niger state, where armed men abducted at least 27 students, a teacher, and six members of his family.
In December, a group of bandits kidnapped 344 students in a boarding school in the town of Kankara, in the neighboring state of Katsina.
The bandits released the teenagers after a week of captivity following negotiations with authorities. On February 9, the leader of the kidnappers, Awwalun Daudawa, turned himself in to the authorities in exchange for an amnesty agreement.