Scores of female students kidnapped by Islamic militants from a northeastern Nigerian school are free, Nigeria’s military reported on Wednesday evening.
Only eight of more than 100 students are unaccounted for, Major General Chris Olukolade said in a statement that gave no details.
“The others have been freed this evening,” he said.
The government had reported that security forces were in hot pursuit of militants who abducted more than 100 females from a high school early on Tuesday.
Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima told reporters that 129 students were kidnapped and at least 14 freed themselves: four of the students — aged between 16 and 18 — jumped off the back of a truck and 10 escaped into the bush when the extremists asked them to cook and were not paying attention.
The abductions came hours after an explosion blamed on extremists killed 75 people in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, angering citizens who are questioning government and military claims that they are containing a 5-year-old Islamic uprising. Two more attacks killed 20 people Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in northeastern Nigerian villages.
While the military claims that they have cornered insurgents in a remote northeast corner of the West African nation, attacks have increased in frequency and becoming more deadly. More than 1 500 people have been killed this year, compared to an estimated 3 600 between 2010 and 2013.
Shettima told reporters Wednesday that the insurgents arrived at Chibok government Secondary School for Girls wearing military fatigues and posing as soldiers — a common tactic used by the insurgents.
His information came from the school principal, who believed the men were soldiers removing the young women — aged between 16 and 18 — for their own safety. So the principal made no fuss as the students were loaded onto the back of a truck.
It was only as the armed men were leaving, and started shooting, that he realised his mistake, Shettima said. The militants killed a soldier and a police officer guarding the school, officials said.
Such attacks are typical of the Boko Haram terrorist network — the name means “Western education is sinful” — which has vowed to force an Islamic state on Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation of some 180 million people divided almost equally between mainly Muslims in the north and a predominantly Christian south.
The extremists have been kidnapping girls and young women. In one horrendous attack in February, where 59 students were burned to death in a dorm, Boko Harem had first gone to the girl’s residence hall and told them all to leave, go home and forget about education because it was un-Islamic.
Nigeria has Africa’s biggest economy but 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the northeast suffers the most. Only 5% of children get to high school, and only a small percentage of those are girls.
The government closed all schools in Borno three weeks ago. The girls who were kidnapped had been recalled so that they could write their final exams.