Nearly 300 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls were safely returned Tuesday after they were kidnapped Friday morning by armed militants.
State authorities said 279 girls were released, which is different from the original reports claiming 317 girls were kidnapped.
After 1 a.m. on Friday, gunmen kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria following a wave of mass abductions. The kidnapped girls from Government Girls Science School in Jangebe are between 11 and 17 years old.
This abduction is the third mass kidnapping experienced in recent months in northwest Nigeria, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Associated Press and Reuters released a video that showed the hundreds of the freed and barefoot schoolgirls in light blue hijabs waiting at a Zamfara state government building to be released.
After health examinations, the girls were reunited with their families.
“I am elated. We thank God. We thank God,” Habib Abdullahi, whose three daughters were kidnapped, was quoted as saying.
In the video, a reporter asked Yakubu Sani, the father of a released girl, how he felt. The smiling father said, “Like just I was born just now, I feel very fine.”
Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari joined in celebrating the girls’ release.
“I join the affected families and the people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe,” he tweeted. “This news [brings] overwhelming joy. I am pleased that their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident.”
Buhari also the government is working to “bring an end to these grim and heartbreaking incidents of kidnapping.” The president stated that the military and police would continue to go after kidnappers and will need the help of communities for intelligence to quell criminal plans.
Zamfara Gov. Bello Matawalle also tweeted upon the girls’ return. He posted photos of the girls returning in vans.
“Alhamdulillah! [God be praised!],” he shared. “It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.”
Activists worldwide have called on the Nigerian government to intervene to end the fatal trend of abductions and terror activity.
No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, which is the country’s largest-ever kidnapping of schoolgirls, according to the AP/Reuters video.
The kidnapping is under investigation. Though kidnapping for ransom has become a profitable industry for terrorist groups in Nigeria, authorities claim ransom was not paid for the girls’ release.
However, The Wall Street Journal notes that one of the girls reported that a ransom had been paid, and the kidnappers even fired shots in the middle of the night to celebrate the payment’s arrival.
Umma Abubakar, another one of the kidnapped girls, shared with reporters details of the abduction, according to CNN.
"Most of us got injured on our feet and we could not continue trekking, so they [the captors] said they will shoot anybody who did not continue to walk," Abubakar recalled. "We walked across a river and they hid us and let us sleep under shrubs in a forest."
Yusuf Idris, a spokesman Gov. Matawalle, shared with CNN that the girls said the kidnappers treated them fairly and gave them food. But they said it was the worst experience in their life.
“[The girls] spent four days in captivity with a bandit group walking through the Rugu Forest in a choreography that now, unfortunately, has become all too familiar in northern Nigeria,” Wall Street Journal Africa Bureau Chief Joe Parkinson said.
The Rugu Forest has become known as a hideout for Bandits that have terrorized northwest Nigeria.
Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terror groups in the world, kidnapped as many as 500 schoolboys in an attack on Kankara Government Science Secondary School in Katsina state on Dec. 11.
The terror group eventually freed 344 boys after security forces negotiated their release. Many of the boys, however, remain missing.
The recent wave of school kidnappings follows the abduction of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls from a school in Chibok in 2014, which gained international attention with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Over 112 of the Chibok schoolgirls remain missing.
The Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the country third most affected by terrorism globally, behind Iraq and Afghanistan. The index reports that from 2001 to 2019, there were over 22,000 killed by acts of terror. Nigeria also leads the world in the number of Christians killed, according to Open Doors USA.