Boko Haram frees 100 kidnapped schoolgirls
Islamist militants freed more than 100 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, driving them back into the town where they had been captured a month ago.
The captors from the Boko Haram group gave no reason for their release, which triggered celebrations and tears, but the government denied that a ransom had been paid. Some of the girls claimed friends had died in captivity and one was still being held.
The fighters, some shouting "God is greatest", drove the girls back to the northeast town of Dapchi in a line of trucks in the morning and dropped them off before leaving.
Some residents fled as the convoy rolled in.
"I don't know why they brought us back but they said because we are children of Muslims," said one of the freed girls, Khadija Grema.
After the release, in the nearby village of Jumbam, some of the girls held each other and wept, huddling on the ground in beige hijabs as residents stood around them.
Aliyu Maina, reunited with his 13-year-old daughter, said the fighters "stopped and blocked the road, they didn't talk to anybody, they didn't greet anybody".
"They said people should make space for people to recognise their children and I got my child."
Boko Haram has waged an insurgency for nine years in northeast Nigeria, during which tens of thousands of people have been killed, more than two million displaced and thousands abducted.
A 2015 military campaign drove the group from most territory it controlled, but much of the area remains beyond government rule, and insurgents still stage attacks from strongholds near Lake Chad.
The kidnapping of 110 girls aged 11-19 on February 19 from Dapchi was the biggest mass abduction since Boko Haram took more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014 - a case that triggered international outrage.
Dapchi residents said more than 100 girls had returned yesterday. The Nigerian government began transporting the girls by bus to Maiduguri, one of the largest cities in the northeast and the hub for the fight against Boko Haram.
"One girl is still with them because she is a Christian," said Grema, the freed student. "About five are dead but it was not as if they killed them - it was because of the stress and trauma that made them tired and weak."