Irish Independent

Girls taken in Nigeria school kidnapping freed amid speculatio­n ransom was paid

- Afolabi Sotunde GASU, NIGERIA

GUNMEN have freed all 279 girls kidnapped last week from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, officials said yesterday. Victims told of how their abductors had beaten and threatened to shoot them during a march into captivity.

Dozens of girls in Muslim veils sat in a hall in a state government building before being taken for medical checks. A few parents arrived, and one father wept with joy.

Farida Lawali (15) told how she and the other girls had been taken to a forest by the kidnappers.

“They carried the sick ones that cannot move. We were walking in the stones and thorns,” she said. “They started hitting us with guns so that we could move,” she added.

“They said they will shoot anybody who did not continue to walk,” another of the girls, Umma Abubakar, told Reuters, saying many had injuries that had made walking difficult.

Relief at their return was tempered by concern over the circumstan­ces of their release.

A series of school abductions in recent months has led many Nigerians to worry that regional authoritie­s are making the situation worse by letting kidnappers go unpunished or paying them off.

Zailani Bappa, a media adviser to the state governor, denied that a ransom had been paid, but said the captors had been offered amnesty, as well as assistance to resettle at a site with newly built schools, a hospital and other facilities.

“The process means amnesty for those who repent and [they] will be assisted to

‘They started hitting uswith gunsso thatwe could move’

resettle. Hence, no monetary inducement or ransom was involved in the rescue. It was a willing surrender of the girls,” he said. “Those who surrender their arms will be assisted to start a new life.”

President Muhammadu Buhari called for the captors to be brought to justice and said that if any ransoms were being paid, this would only make future attacks more likely.

The pupils from Jangebe, a town in Zamfara state, were seized just after midnight on Friday. All had now been freed, Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle said.

Boarding schools in northern Nigeria have become targets for mass kidnapping­s for ransom by armed gangs.

The trend was started by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which kidnapped 270 schoolgirl­s in 2014, around 100 of whom have never been found. But recent months have seen a sudden escalation of similar attacks, including the abduction of 344 boys in December.

Friday’s raid on the Government Girls Science Secondary School was the second school abduction in little over a week in the north-west.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the authoritie­s have made payoffs in the past in exchange for child hostages, creating an incentive for abductions.

 ?? PHOTO: AP ?? Free: Some of the released schoolgirl­s await medical check-ups.
PHOTO: AP Free: Some of the released schoolgirl­s await medical check-ups.

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