Hundreds of Nigerian girls have been released after they were kidnapped from a boarding school in the northwestern region of the country, according to The Washington Post. The girls, dressed in light blue hijabs and barefoot, appear unharmed, but doctors will administer a a medical checkup before the children are returned to their parents. CNN reports that the girls were in “good condition,” but some of them had to be treated for open sores on their feet.
The Governor of the State of Zamfara, Bello Matawalle, said that 279 girls were freed after being abducted from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in the town of Jangebe last week. According to the Associated Press, the government originally reported that 317 girls were kidnapped, but only 279 girls have returned. It is unclear whether the higher number was an administrative error or if some girls are still missing.
Witnesses told NPR reporters that gunmen disguised as security personnel arrived at the school in pickup trucks and on motorcycles. They then broke into the girls’ hostels and “forcefully evacuated” them. Some of the girls spoke to CNN about their treatment at the hands of the kidnappers. “Most of us got injured on our feet and we could not continue trekking, so they said they will shoot anybody who did not continue to walk,” Umma Abubakar told reporters gathered at the state house.
The Associated Press reports that according to officials, “bandits” were behind the abduction. The term ‘bandits’ refers to the groups of armed men who operate in Zamfara state and kidnap children both for money and to push for the release of their members from jail. At the time of the kidnapping, the bandits reportedly attacked a nearby military post to prevent military intervention in the abduction.
This abduction is the latest in a string of similar kidnapping cases. At least 42 people were abducted from a state-run school last month and later released; and more than 300 schoolboys were taken and later freed in December. Al Jazeera reports that Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Nigeria representative, responded this string of attacks, saying, “We are angered and saddened and by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria.”
Nigeria’s director of the Save the Children charity, Mercy Gichuhi, expressed her anger, saying, “It is unacceptable that attacks on schools and students has become a recurring scenario in Northern Nigeria. These attacks … put (the children) at risk of never returning to school, as they or their parents think it’s too dangerous,” adds Al Jazeera. Amnesty International Nigeria continued this idea, calling the abductions “a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
According to NPR, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted that the Nigerian government is “working hard to bring an end to these grim and heartbreaking incidents of kidnapping. The Military and the Police will continue to go after kidnappers.”