More than 300 schoolchildren have safely walked free, according to Nigerian officials, roughly a week after their mass abduction in the northern state of Katsina. The region’s governor, Aminu Bello Masari, announced the release of the boys — 344 in all — in a statement Thursday, saying they would receive medical attention before reuniting with their families.
“This is a huge relief to the entire country & international community,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in his own remarks. “The entire country is grateful to Governor Masari, the Intelligence Agencies, the Military and the Police Force.”
The pair of announcements mark a happy ending to what has been another deeply fraught week in Nigeria. The boys were kidnapped last Friday from the Government Science Secondary School in the city of Kankara, in a brazen attack claimed by Boko Haram.
The Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility or been blamed for a series of high-profile attacks in Nigeria. The kidnapping last Friday also recalls the group’s internationally condemned 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls — nearly half of whom appear to remain in captivity.
But the more recent mass abduction would represent something of a stretch for the group, which typically operates in the country’s northeast regions, where it is based. And government officials so far have avoided publicly attributing the recent attack in northwest Nigeria to Boko Haram, despite the group’s claim of responsibility.
It remains unclear precisely how the government obtained the schoolboys’ release. But Masari previously said that officials were engaged in talks with the kidnappers, and that the country’s security agencies had deployed for “rescue operations” after locating the children earlier this week.
Since the kidnapping, local residents have gathered for demonstrations protesting the government, which they say has allowed extremists free rein to commit violence without fear of retribution. Buhari appeared to acknowledge those complaints in recorded comments posted Friday.
“We are acutely aware of our responsibility,” the Nigerian president said. “Our responsibility is to secure the country. So we have a lot of work to do.”