Boko Haram returns kidnapped girls, but few still remain

NGR180322AA001LAGOS, Nigeria — Boko Haram extremists returned a majority of the 110 girls kidnapped from their school a month ago even as dozens remain missing, the Nigerian government said Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning, Boko Haram fighters drove into the northern town of Dapchi in nine vans and dropped the girls off just after Nigerian soldiers were withdrawn, according to Alhaji Baba Shehu, a resident of the town, and other witnesses.

"(Some) girls all ran away to their home before being counted," he said, adding it was unclear how many of the girls were returned. "Still, we are happy. God has answered our prayers and our daughters are back."

The government reported that 76 of the 110 girls had been freed. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the release was obtained through "back-channel efforts," "a pause in operations" and with the help of "some friends of the country." He added that the negotiations for the release of the remaining girls was still ongoing.

A month ago, Boko Haram attacked the Government Girls Science Technical College attended by the girls, part of an ongoing campaign in northern Nigeria to terrorize schools and villages: The group's name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.

As they dropped the girls off Wednesday, they told residents: “This is a warning to you all,” according to the Associated Press. “We did it out of pity. And don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”

The government earlier this week had already moved to close down boarding schools in the area out of fear of further kidnappings.
Meanwhile, parents headed for the town, hopeful that their child was among those freed.

Hajiya Aisa Bukar, 35 whose daughter Aisha Kachalla was among those that returned, said she was moved beyond words to see her daughter.
"I'm more than excited," Bukar said. "I'm so happy to be with my daughter."

Bukar said she took her daughter to a hospital in Dapchi before the arrival of the Nigerian military who took the girls into their custody.
In the past month, there has been growing anger among residents and parents over the way the government had handled the kidnapping: It initially denied the students were abducted, then told parents the day after the kidnappings the girls had mostly been released.

On Tuesday, an Amnesty International report accusing the Nigerian military of failing to listen to multiple warnings of an imminent attack fueled that fury in Dapchi – a report the military called false.

Last year, the Nigerian army claimed the militants had been defeated in military terms, although not eliminated.

Parents and residents are also upset because four years ago, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls, 100 of whom remain missing from a school in Chibok, 170 miles away, sparking the viral #Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

It shouldn't have happened again, parents said. Meanwhile, it's clear that the militants are far from defeated.

Bukar said she was on ground to witness the arrival of the Boko Haram convey of vans who dropped the girls around the Dapchi market square. They were clearly unafraid and in control, she noted.

"One of them waved a black flag with Islamic inscription," she said. "They stopped to take pictures with our youth."

Photos: March 22, 2018 - Dapchi, Yobe State, Northeastern Nigeria - Aisha Bukar Kachalla, one of the recently released Dapchi girls in warm embrace during family reunion.
Credit: Ali Abare Abubakar/ ARA Network Inc. (03/22/18)

Story/photo publish date: 03/21/18

A version of this story was published in USA Today.
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