Nigerian army rescues 137 captured in mass abduction at school

Children rescued by Nigerian soldiers are put on a bus to be taken home
Children rescued by Nigerian soldiers are put on a bus to be taken home - ANADOLU
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The Nigerian army has rescued at least 137 students and staff who were abducted from a school earlier this month.

On Sunday, the soldiers descended on a forest in the northern state of Zamfara and freed 76 female and 61 male hostages taken from the Kuriga school on March 7.

Maj Gen Edward Buba said: “In the early hours of March 24 2024, the military working with local authorities and government agencies across the country in a coordinated search and rescue operation rescued the hostages.”

Pictures released by the military showed the children covered in dust and still wearing their school uniforms as they were transported to safety.

Earlier this month motorcycle-riding gunmen invaded the Kuriga school and marched hundreds of children into nearby forests before security forces could arrive.

Families watched helplessly as 287 students were taken, at least 100 of them aged 12 or younger, according to the school’s staff.

“Efforts would continue until other hostages are found and the terrorists arrested, tried, and brought to justice by Nigerian law,” Maj Gen Buba said.

At least 17 other schoolchildren were also rescued two weeks after they were taken hostage.

Jibrin Aminu, a spokesman for the Kuriga parents, said he would clarify numbers on Monday when families had been given the chance to “take account of their kidnapped children”.

A classroom at Kuriga school where more than 250 pupils were kidnapped by gunmen
A classroom at Kuriga school where more than 250 pupils were kidnapped by gunmen - HAIDAR UMAR/afp

The rescue took place just days before a deadline to pay a 1 billion naira (£540,000) ransom for their release.

No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, which locals have blamed on bandits known for mass killings and kidnappings.

Abductions at Nigerian schools were first carried out by jihadist group Boko Haram, which seized 276 students from a girls’ school in Chibok in north-eastern Borno State a decade ago. Some of the girls have never been released.

But since then the tactic has been adopted by criminal gangs without ideological affiliation.

Kidnappings by criminal gangs have become an almost daily occurrence, especially in northern Nigeria, tearing apart communities that must pool savings to pay ransoms, often forcing them to sell land, cattle and grain to secure the release of their loved ones.

Under growing pressure to end the mass kidnappings in northern Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, the country’s president, promised his administration is “deploying detailed strategies to ensure that our schools remain safe sanctuaries of learning, not lairs for wanton abductions”.

Mr Tinubu had vowed to rescue the children “without paying a dime” in ransom money.

Arrests for mass kidnapping are rare, as victims are usually released after families pay ransoms or deals are made through government and security officials.

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