Sunday 8 December 2019

Fate of kidnap girls uncertain

Nigerian flag
Nigerian flag

The fate of 115 female students abducted by Islamic extremists was thrown into uncertainty when their school principal denied the Nigerian military's report that almost all the pupils had been freed.

"Up till now we are still waiting and praying for the safe return of the students ... the security people, especially the vigilantes and the well-meaning volunteers of Gwoza are still out searching for them. The military people, too, are in the bush searching," said the principal, Asabe Kwambura.

She said only 14 of the 129 girls and young women kidnapped by gunmen before dawn on Tuesday have returned to Chibok town - four who jumped from the back of a truck and 10 who escaped into the bush when their abductors asked them to cook a meal.

The principal directly contradicted Major General Chris Olukolade, the Defence Ministry spokesman, who said in a statement late on Wednesday that Ms Kwambura herself had confirmed that all but eight of the students have been accounted for. "The others have been freed this evening," he said. He also said security forces had captured one of the abductors.

Ms Kwambura was adamant: "So let it be clear that all the information passed on to the media by the military concerning 107 girls is not true."

She said the students were kidnapped because of a terrible mistake. The insurgents arrived after midnight at her Government Girls' Secondary School wearing military fatigues and posing as soldiers - a common tactic used by the insurgents. She said she believed them when they told her that they needed to move the girls for their own safety. So she allowed the extremists posing as soldiers to load the students on to the back of a truck.

It was only as the armed men were leaving, and started shooting, that she realised her mistake. The militants killed a soldier and a police officer guarding the school, she said.

Security forces are in hot pursuit of the kidnappers, according to the government.

Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima offered a reward of 300,000 dollars (£180,000) for information leading to the release of the young women, aged between 16 and 18.

Mr Shettima said he wanted to visit Chibok but the military told him it was too dangerous, even under its escort, for him to make the 130-kilometre (80-mile) drive from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of the Boko Haram terrorist network.

The abductions have been condemned by many around the world. The 57-state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation warned it "tarnishes the good image of Islam". British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted "I condemn the sickening abduction of school girls in Nigeria. UK stands ready to help Nigerian authorities. My thoughts with the families."

The extremists have been on a rampage in Nigeria this week, blamed for four attacks in three days that started with a massive explosion at a busy bus station during the Monday morning rush hour in Abuja, the capital, which killed at least 75 people.

Boko Haram - the nickname means "Western education is sinful" - has vowed to force an Islamic state on Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of some 170 million people divided almost equally between mainly Muslims in the north and a predominantly Christian south.

PA Media

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