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UPDATE 8-Chaos and jubilation as freed Nigerian schoolboys reunite with family

GlobalDec 18, 2020 22:06
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* Schoolboys back a week after abduction
* Boko Haram claimed responsibility, no confirmation
* One freed boy says he suspects captors were bandits

(Recasts with family reunions; adds quote, descriptions of
By Afolabi Sotunde
KATSINA, Nigeria, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Parents sobbed, mobbed
their children in hugs and even kissed the ground in gratitude
on Friday as they reunited with scores of schoolboys who had
been kidnapped a week earlier in northwest Nigeria.
Hundreds of adults jostled to find their offspring among the
344 dusty and dazed looking children who had arrived by bus in
Katsina state on Friday morning. Those who succeeded cheered and
grabbed their children, but scores more were still waiting by
early evening.
"I feel like God has granted me paradise because I am so
happy," said an ebullient Hamza Kankara after she found her son,
Lawal, in the crowd.
Another man knelt and kissed the ground, thanking God for
the return of his young son, before clutching the boy and
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had come under mounting
pressure to free the boys and deal with insecurity in the north.
One boy, who did not give his name, said their captors had
told him to describe them as members of the Islamist militant
group Boko Haram, although he suspected they were armed bandits.
"They beat us morning, every night. We suffered a lot. They
only gave us food once a day and water twice a day," he told
Nigeria's Arise television.
Gunmen on motorbikes raided the boys' boarding school in the
town of Kankara in Katsina state a week ago and marched hundreds
of them into a vast forest that spans four states.
Authorities said security services rescued them on Thursday.
The army said it had acted on "credible intelligence" and freed
all 344 kidnapped boys. Many details surrounding the incident remain unclear,
including who was responsible, why they kidnapped the boys,
whether ransom was paid and how the release was secured.
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.
The boys' abduction was particularly embarrassing for
Buhari, who comes from Katsina state and has repeatedly said
that Boko Haram has been "technically defeated".
Any Boko Haram involvement in this kidnapping would mark a
geographical expansion in the militant group's activities from
its base in the northeast.

Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced on
Thursday, a video started circulating online purportedly showing
Boko Haram militants with some of the boys. Reuters was unable
to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.
The rescued boy interviewed by Arise TV was one of those who
had appeared in the online video.
"They said I should say they are Boko Haram and gangs of Abu
Shekau," he said, referring to a name used by a Boko Haram
leader. "Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram ... They
are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns."
Another of the freed boys told Reuters that the kidnappers
had initially taken them to a hiding place.
"But when they saw a jet fighter, they changed the location
and hid us in a different place. They gave us food, but it was
very little," he said.
Earlier on Friday the boys, flanked by soldiers and armed
police officers, were taken to meet the governor. They then
underwent medical checks before meeting with Buhari.
Anxious parents had waited hours to be reunited.
Hajiya Bilikisu, in a cream-coloured veil, said she had
started to lose hope that she would ever see her son, Abdullahi
Abdulrazak, again.
"I was just crying, crying with joy, when I saw them, my
son" in pictures after the release, she told Reuters.
"They have to recover psychologically," she said. "They went
through trauma. We have to try to counsel them, so they can now
become normal persons."

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

UPDATE 8-Chaos and jubilation as freed Nigerian schoolboys reunite with family

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