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Kuriga kidnap: Nigerian pupils taken in mass abduction freed

Some of the girls freed by kidnappers pictured in a bus, Nigeria - 24 March 2024
The pupils, some seen here after being freed, were in a school compound assembly ground when the gunmen rode in

Nigerian pupils taken by gunmen in a mass abduction in the north-western town of Kuriga earlier this month have been freed "unharmed", officials say.

Kaduna state governor Uba Sani said they had been rescued thanks to the courage of the security forces.

The school authorities had said more than 280 children were taken, but the army said 137 hostages had been freed.

It said the operation took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, days before a ransom deadline.

Officials have not yet commented on the discrepancy in numbers.

In previous cases, hostages have been able to flee from their captors as they trek for days to forest hideouts.

A top government official, who asked not to be named, has told BBC Hausa that one of the teachers taken from Kuriga died in captivity. The group was held for 17 days in total.

Kidnap gangs, known as bandits, have seized thousands of people in recent years, especially in the north-west.

Six mass abductions this month have rocked parts of northern Nigeria, despite an overall fall in the number of such attacks over the past year.

Those kidnapped are usually freed after a ransom is paid.

The kidnappers had demanded $690,000 (£548,000) for the release of the Kuriga children aged between eight and 15. The government had said it would not pay any ransom.

"This is indeed a day of joy," Governor Sani said in a statement in which he praised Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu for ensuring that the abducted schoolchildren had been "released unharmed".

The president, who welcomed the news in a tweet, said it showed the importance of the government and state authorities collaborating "especially on matters of security".

Military spokesman Maj Gen Edward Buba said 76 girls and 61 boys had been rescued from Zamfara state, which borders Kaduna to the north-west.

The military has also released photos of some of the children, showing them sitting in buses looking dusty and exhausted.

Some of the boys freed by kidnappers pictured in a bus, Nigeria - 24 March 2024
The kidnappers had demanded $690,000 for the release of the Kuriga children, pictured here on Sunday morning

A security source told Reuters news agency the students had been freed in a forest and were being taken to Kaduna for medical tests before being allowed to see their families.

The mass abduction occurred on the morning of 7 March during assembly in a compound housing a junior and senior school.

According to witnesses, the pupils were in the assembly ground around 08:30 (07:30 GMT) when dozens of gunmen on motorcycles rode in, eventually taking away 187 students from a secondary school and 125 from the local primary school. It is not clear how many teachers were abducted. Twenty-five students later returned.

One pupil, believed to be 14-years-old, died after being shot by the gunmen.

Most of the kidnaps in north-west Nigeria are believed to be the work of criminal gangs trying to make money from ransoms.

In an attempt to curb Nigeria's spiralling and lucrative kidnapping industry, a controversial law that made it a crime to make ransom payments was passed in 2022. It carries a jail sentence of at least 15 years, however no-one has ever been arrested.

Earlier this year, the family of a group of sisters kidnapped in the capital, Abuja, denied a police statement that the security forces had rescued the girls, saying that they had no choice but to pay the ransom.

There was global outrage when Islamist militants from the Boko Haram group seized nearly 300 girls in Nigeria's north-eastern town of Chibok in 2014.

Most of the victims have either been freed or escaped since then, but dozens remain unaccounted for.

On Saturday, the army said it had rescued 17 students and a woman kidnapped just days after the Kuriga attack from a school in Sokoto, also in the north-west.

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