Gunmen have freed all 279 girls kidnapped from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, the governor in the country’s Zamfara state said on Tuesday.
According to earlier reports, 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary (GGSS) School in the town of Jangebe were abducted by an armed gang at around 1 a.m. on Friday.
Zamfara state spokesman Sulaiman Tanau Anka said that some of the missing girls had run into the bush at the time of the assault, and the number of those kidnapped was 279. All had now been freed, Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle said.
Journalists in Zamfara’s state capital, Gusau, saw dozens of girls in Muslim veils sitting in a hall in a state government building. A few parents arrived later, and one father wept with joy after seeing his daughter.
Most of the girls appeared to be unharmed, but at least a dozen were sent to hospital for treatment. The girls were mostly barefoot, and several had injuries to their feet.
“This news bring overwhelming joy,” President Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter after the girls were freed. “I am pleased that their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident.”
One father, whose seven daughters were among those kidnapped and freed, said the incident would not deter him from schooling his children.
“It’s a ploy to deny our girls… from getting the Western education in which we are far behind,” Lawal Abdullahi said. “We should not succumb to blackmail. My advice to government is that they should take immediate precautions to stop further abductions.”
On Monday, state officials said they were in talks with the kidnappers, and that they would not sending in security forces for fear of harming the girls.
Schools have become targets for mass kidnappings for ransom in northern Nigeria by armed criminal groups, in a trend started by the jihadist group Boko Haram, and later its offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province.
The government has repeatedly denied paying ransoms. But President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement on Friday in which he urged state governments “to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously”.
The raid in Zamfara state was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in the northwest, a region increasingly targeted by criminal gangs. On Saturday, gunmen released 27 teenage boys who were kidnapped from their school on February 17 in the north-central state of Niger.
In 2014, Boko Haram abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Nigeria’s most high profile school kidnapping. Around 100 of them remain missing.