Kuriga Kidnapping: Free Gang Kidnapped Nigerian Students

  • By Yusuf Akinbelu
  • BBC News, Lagos

image source, Nigerian Army

image caption,

The students, some seen here after being released, were at the school campus assembly ground when the gunmen rode in.

Nigerian students kidnapped by gunmen in the northwestern city of Kuriga earlier this month have been released “unharmed,” officials say.

Kaduna State Governor Uba Sani said they were rescued thanks to the bravery of the security forces.

School authorities said more than 280 children were captured, but the military said 137 hostages were freed.

It said the move took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, days before the redemption deadline.

Officials are yet to comment on the difference in numbers.

On previous occasions, the hostages had managed to escape their captors during multi-day treks to forest hideouts.

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

Trafficking gangs known as bandits have kidnapped thousands of people in recent years, particularly in the northwest.

Despite an overall drop in the number of such attacks over the past year, six mass kidnappings have rocked parts of northern Nigeria this month.

Kidnappers are usually released 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 tribute.

“This is truly a happy day,” Governor Sani said in a statement in which he commended Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu for ensuring that the abducted schoolchildren were “released unharmed”.

Army spokesman Major General Edward Buba said 76 girls and 61 boys were rescued from Zamfara state, which borders Kaduna in the northwest.

The army has also released photographs showing some of the boys sitting in dusty and tired buses.

image source, Nigerian Army

image caption,

The kidnappers are asking $690,000 to free the Kuriga children pictured on Sunday morning.

A security source told Reuters news agency that the students were released in a forest and taken to Kaduna for a medical check-up before being allowed to see their families.

On the morning of March 7, a mass abduction took place during a meeting in the junior and senior school premises.

According to witnesses, the students were at the assembly grounds around 08:30 (07:30 GMT) when dozens of gunmen rode in on motorcycles, eventually taking away 187 students from a secondary school and 125 from a local elementary school. It is unclear how many teachers were abducted. Twenty-five students later returned.

A 14-year-old student was killed in the firing by the gunmen.

Most of the kidnappings in northwest Nigeria are believed to be the work of criminal gangs seeking to make money from ransoms.

In an attempt to curb Nigeria's spiraling and lucrative smuggling industry, a controversial law was passed that would make the payment of ransom a crime by 2022. It carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, although no arrests have been made.

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

In 2014, there was global outrage when Boko Haram militants abducted 300 girls in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok.

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

On Saturday, the military said it had rescued 17 students and a girl who were abducted days after Kuriga attacked a school in Sokoto in the northwest.

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