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Nigerian governor says 279 kidnapped schoolgirls now freed

Kidnapped schoolgirls freed

Hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted last week from a boarding school in the country's northwest have been released, a state governor said Tuesday, ending the latest in a spate of such kidnappings in the West African nation.

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 Gov. Bello Matawalle said that 279 girls had been freed after being abducted from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday. The government last week said 317 had been kidnapped. It was not clear if the higher number was an error or if some girls were still missing.

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

Officials said “bandits” were behind the abduction, referring to the groups of armed men who operate in Zamfara state and kidnap for money or to push for the release of their members from jail.

At the time of the attack, one resident told The Associated Press that the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from responding to the school.

One of the girls recounted the night of their abduction to the AP.

“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.”

Officials did not say if a ransom had been paid for the girls' release.

President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “overwhelming joy” over the release.

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

The president called for greater vigilance to prevent bandits from carrying out such attacks — but warned that paying money for the release of victims would only result in more assaults.



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