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Kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys freed

December 17, 2020

More than 300 kidnapped boys held captive for six days have been handed over to authorities. Some question whether the militant Islamist group Boko Haram was really behind the kidnapping.

People holding a sign that reads Bring back our boys at a rally
It was unclear if any of the boys were still being heldImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

A total of 344 kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys have been handed over to government security forces, Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari told public broadcaster NTA on Thursday. 

More than 800 students were at the Government Science Secondary School, in the northwestern town of Kankara, when it was attacked by armed men on December 11. Hundreds escaped but more than 330 were thought to have been abducted. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the raid.

Masari said most, if not all, the boys had been freed in neighboring Zamfara state. They will be medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took to Twitter to welcome the release: "This is a huge relief to the entire country and international community. The entire country is grateful to Governor Masari, the intelligence agencies, the military and the police force."

A tweet from Nigerian national newspaper Daily Trust columnist and analyst Bulama Bukarti showed unverified pictures allegedly of the freed schoolboys "being conveyed in military and police trucks from Tsafe, Zamfara State, to Katsina."

How were the schoolboys freed?

The schoolboys' release came shortly after a video started circulating online. It purportedly shows the Boko Haram Islamist militant group with some of the students who are begging security forces to leave the area.

Local newspaper Katsina Post reported the abductors fled and abandoned the children after reaching an agreement with the government.

"What we know is that this was a joint effort between the police, the army and probably two other security agencies in negotiating with the kidnappers of the boys," DW's West Africa correspondent Flourish Chukwurah said.

 A view shows the classroom blocks at the Government Science school where gunmen abducted students, in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina state
The classroom blocks at the Government Science school where gunmen abducted students in Kankara.Image: Afolabi Sotunde/REUTERS

Did Boko Haram kidnap the boys?

"Boko Haram has claimed responsibility, however the authorities and even the local people insist that the kidnapping was not done by Boko Haram, that this was the work of bandits in the area. The bandits have been trying to pledge allegiance to Boko Haram for a while now. Many refer to these as subgroups of Boko Haram," Chukwurah said.

"Regardless of who did the kidnappings, the highlight is that these boys have been finally released," she added.

Despite claims from the government that the militant group has been largely defeated in Nigeria, analysts and locals believe the threat remains, said DW correspondent Uwaisu Idris.

"To many Nigerians, Boko Haram is still strong and can wreck havoc," he said.

Katsina State is Buhari's home region. The national leader's failure to quell Islamist insurgents since coming to power has blighted his tenure.

Should Boko Haram's involvement in the kidnapping, still disputed by some in the government, is confirmed, it would represent an expansion from the group's typical area of operation in Nigeria's northeast.

The government will be "working with the police and also to engage private security firms to safeguard schools" to prevent the "ugly experience of the last six days," Masari added in Thursday's NTA broadcast.

kmm, wmr/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)