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UPDATE 5-Nigerian security forces rescue more than 300 schoolboys kidnapped by gunmen

GlobalDec 18, 2020 00:30
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© Reuters.

* More than 300 boys abducted from a school last week
* Katsina governor says 344 boys were freed
* Islamist militants claim responsibility in audiotape

(Adds comment from parent, Buhari)
By Afolabi Sotunde and Ismail Abba
KATSINA, Nigeria, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Security forces on
Thursday rescued nearly 350 schoolboys who had been kidnapped in
northwestern Nigeria and taken into a vast forest, the governor
of Katsina state said, bringing relief to many families.
It was not immediately clear whether all the missing boys
had been recovered.
"I think we have recovered most of the boys," Governor Aminu
Bello Masari said in a televised interview with state channel
Hours earlier a video started circulating online purportedly
showing Islamist militants from Boko Haram with some of the
boys. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the authenticity
of the footage, the boys, or who released it.
The abduction gripped a country already incensed by
widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram's 2014
kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town
of Chibok.
Last Friday night, gunmen raided the Government Science
Secondary School in Katsina on motorbikes and marched the boys
into Rugu forest, in the biggest such incident in the lawless
region in recent years.
Masari said a total of 344 boys held in the forest had been
freed in neighboring Zamfara state. He did not say how many had
been missing or how they were freed.
He said security forces had cordoned off the area where the
boys were being held and were given instructions not to shoot.
"We thank God that they took our advice and not a single
shot was fired," he said.
The boys were on their way back to Katsina and would be
medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday,
Masari said.
Retired health worker Shuaibu Kankara, whose 13-year-old son
Annas Shuaibu was among the kidnapped boys, could not contain
his joy at their release.
"I am so happy," he said. "We are so grateful to the
governor of Katsina and all those who worked hard to secure
their release."
His only concern now was reuniting with his son, he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the students' release
and asked for patience while his administration dealt with
security issues.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said in a statement but
added, "We will deal with all that."
The abduction was awkward for Buhari, who comes from Katsina
and has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been "technically

Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in
an unverified audio recording.
The video, which featured Boko Haram's emblem, showed a
group of boys in a wood pleading, "Help us, help us."
The father of one of the missing boys, who gave only his
first name Umar, said his son, Shamsu Ibrahim, was one of the
boys who is heard speaking in the video.
"All the armies that have come here to help us, please send
them back. They can do nothing to help," the boy says.
Boko Haram has a history of turning captives into jihadist
fighters. If its claims are true, its involvement in
northwestern Nigeria marks a geographical expansion in its
activities. But it could have purchased the boys from local
criminal gangs with which it has been building ties.
Earlier on Thursday, protesters marched in the state
capital, also called Katsina, under a banner reading
#BringBackOurBoys as pressure mounted on the government to
improve security.
"Northern Nigeria has been abandoned at the mercy of vicious
insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists and an
assortment of hardened criminals," said Balarabe Ruffin of the
Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), which focuses on the welfare
of northern Nigerians.
Armed gangs that rob and kidnap for ransom, widely referred
to as "bandits", carry out attacks on communities across the
northwest, making it hard for locals to farm, travel or tap rich
mineral assets in some states such as gold.
Such gangs killed more than 1,100 people in the first half
of 2020 alone, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In the northeast, Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State
West Africa Province, have waged a decade-long insurgency
estimated to have displaced about 2 million people and killed
more than 30,000. They want to create states based on their
extreme interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Buhari, a former military ruler, was elected in 2015 in
large part due to his pledge to crush the insurgency. Under his
predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram grew in strength and
controlled territory around the size of Belgium.

FACTBOX-What is Boko Haram? violence and insecurity affecting Nigeria

UPDATE 5-Nigerian security forces rescue more than 300 schoolboys kidnapped by gunmen

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