Katsina, Nigeria – More than 300 Nigerian boys were reunited with their parents on Friday, a week after gunmen stormed their dormitories in One of the biggest kidnappings Of school children in history.
Emotional scenes appeared in the Hajj camp in the city of Katsina, as parents and their children clung to tears. Schoolchildren, many of whom appeared dazed and exhausted after six days in captivity, spent hours shuttling between press conferences with local politicians and President Muhammadu Buhari before seeing their families shortly after dark.
Katsina State Governor Amino Bello Masari said all 344 children were kidnapped They were released After capturing them for six days, many of those who were rescued were confirmed.
It was not immediately clear how these statements were aligned with previous testimonies from some of their colleagues who managed to flee, and they said that counting the number of heads that their captors took while walking through a dense forest revealed more than 500 hostages.
One of the rescued boys, Abdul Raouf Issa, who was still wearing the purple and white school uniforms of the Government Science High School in Kankara, said he felt relieved Their ordeal is over. “We suffered at the hands of our captors, but they gave us food to eat,” the 16-year-old said on Friday. “We ate raw local potatoes and drank water from the riverbed.”
The jihadist group Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying Tuesday it has been subjected to Adjust students to be punished For “un-Islamic practices”. In a suspicious video clip released on Thursday, hours before the boys were released, the hostages said that some of their classmates had died while in captivity. Governor Mr. Massari said on Friday that all of the captured children were alive.
Abdul Raouf said he looks forward to returning to his studies. “My dream is to be a scientist in the future,” he said. “I will continue my education.”
Nigerian officials, including Mr. Buhari, were careful Friday not to name the group behind the boys’ abduction or provide details on how they were released.
In an interview with state radio NTA, Bukhari thanked the army, which he said had surrounded the boys’ kidnappers, without revealing their identity or explaining what happened next. His government has repeatedly said that its army has technically defeated Boko Haram and its affiliates, despite the group’s sweep of dozens of military bases and launch brutal attacks on civilians over the past year.
Analysts said that if Boko Haram were indeed responsible, the kidnapping of the boys would represent a dangerous expansion under the leadership of its leader, Abubakar Shekau, from its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria to the northwestern state of Katsina, potentially forming alliances with local criminal networks.
Some analysts also questioned statements by Nigerian officials that they had not paid a ransom to free students taken from Kankara.
The relatively quick release of the boys was a much-needed win for Mr. Buhari’s government, for whom the kidnapping was an embarrassing reminder of the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. The attack sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign, drawing world attention to the rise of Boko Haram militants.
Three years later, 103 of the girls were released for a ransom that, according to the people involved, included the exchange of five imprisoned militants and 3 million euros, equivalent to about $ 3.7 million. The government has denied paying a ransom to the Chibok girls.
After medical examinations and wearing clean clothes, the boys waited hours on Friday afternoon in a state banquet hall before meeting Mr. Buhari and the governor of Katsina.
The president told the boys, “Do not let the kidnapping experience prevent you from continuing your education.” “Please put the experience behind you and move on.”
Abroad, dozens of parents, who have traveled some 130 kilometers from Kankara to the state capital, Katsina, were eager to welcome their children. “I was able to shake [my son’s] “A hand before he and the other released children go for medical checks,” said Hajia Mai Jida, whose 17-year-old son Bukhari was among those released on Thursday.
But like other parents, Ms. Jaidah said she has no plans to send her son back to school. “The school is not secured and I was left alone in the bush,” she said. “I don’t want him to be kidnapped again.”
Corrections and amplifications
Muhammad Bukhari is the President of Nigeria. A previous version of this article incorrectly mentioned his last name as Buhair in one reference.
Write to Gabriel Steinhauser at gabriele.steinhauser[email protected]
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