Nigerian army rescues students more than two weeks after mass school abduction


More than 100 students and staff kidnapped by gunmen from a school in Nigeria more than two weeks ago have been rescued by the army – but many more appear to still be missing.

Security forces said they freed 137 hostages in the early hours of Sunday. It comes following a mass abduction in the remote town of Kuriga, in the northwestern Kaduna state, on 7 March.

Military spokesperson Major General Edward Buba said 76 females and 61 males were freed in the neighbouring state of Zamfara.

He said: “In the early hours of 24 March 2024, the military working with local authorities and government agencies across the country in a coordinated search and rescue operation rescued the hostages.”

It was not immediately known whether force was used during the rescue.

A security source said earlier the students had been found in a forest and were being escorted by the army to the Kaduna capital for medical checks before being reunited with their families.

However, a total of 287 staff and pupils were initially said to be abducted, suggesting more than half the hostages may still be held captive.

Officials were not immediately available to comment on the discrepancy.

Kaduna governor Uba Sani thanked Nigerian President Bola Tinubu for “ensuring that the abducted Kuriga schoolchildren are released unharmed”.

He added: “The Nigerian army also deserves special commendation for showing that, with courage, determination and commitment, criminal elements can be degraded and security restored in our communities.”

The gunmen last week demanded a total of one billion naira – the equivalent of £486,000 – for the release of the children.

But Mr Tinubu had vowed to rescue the students “without paying a dime” in ransom.

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Students abducted by gunmen in Nigeria

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There have been at least three mass abductions in Nigeria this month – the first since 2021 when more than 150 students were taken from a high school in Kaduna.

Such kidnappings have been a major source of concern since Islamist extremists snatched 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in northeastern Borno State a decade ago.

Despite prompting international outrage and a #BringBackOurGirls campaign, some of the students have never been found.

Since then the tactic has been widely adopted by criminal gangs without any ideological affiliation, targeting villagers and travellers for ransom.

It has meant families and communities having to pool savings, often forcing them to sell land, cattle and grain to secure the release of their loved ones.

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