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75 abducted students freed in NW Nigeria amid army crackdown on criminal gangs

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Security forces patrol as people wait for the arrival of the rescued schoolgirls in Jangebe, Zamfara, Nigeria, on March 3, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Dozens of students who were kidnapped from a school in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara earlier this month have been reportedly released after the army began a military crackdown on criminal gangs in the area.

An unnamed spokesman for Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle told Reuters on Monday that no ransom had been paid for the 75 schoolchildren who were abducted by unknown gunmen from the Government Day Secondary School in the remote village of Kaya, in the Maradun region of Zamfara State on September 1.

The release of the students on Sunday took place after their abductors came under pressure from a military crackdown and local authorities shut down telecoms in the region to disrupt communications between armed groups, the spokesman added.

According to security sources, their captors had released them in exchange for safe passage out of the forest as the army had surrounded their camp.

A video showed images of boys and girls in uniform, seated inside what looked like a meeting room.

"They looked robust and unharmed," the spokesperson said.

A video released by Matawalle’s office also showed him greeting buses full of students in the night and asking them if they had been harmed.

Zamfara is among the four states in northwestern Nigeria that have taken measures to try to curb the security crisis in areas where there is not enough police presence.

Gunmen, locally known as “bandits,” have kidnapped more than 1,000 students in more than a dozen attacks on schools or colleges across northwest Nigeria since December 2020. The heavily-armed criminal gangs have demanded large ransom payments from parents. Some of the captives have been released after negotiations with local officials and some others have died or been killed in captivity.

On August 27, 90 students in northern Nigeria were freed after three months of captivity. The children had been abducted along with hundreds of other students by gunmen in a daylight raid on their school in late May.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to tackle insecurity at his inauguration in 2019, is under mounting pressure as kidnappings surge in the impoverished northwest of Nigeria.

Security officials are concerned that the abductors are being infiltrated by Takfiri terrorists. The northern and northeastern parts of the country have been wracked by years of violence involving Boko Haram and other affiliates of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.

The latest development comes as gunmen have killed 12 Nigerian security forces in a raid on a military base in Zamfara, before stealing weapons and torching buildings.

The perpetrators of the Saturday attack in Mutumji still remain unidentified. However, telecommunications have been cut in Zamfara to prevent armed groups from communicating and planning further attacks, two security sources told AFP on Monday.

Criminal gangs known as bandits are blamed for a series of mass abductions in recent months.

Nigerian troops are fighting a 12-year militancy by the Boko Haram terrorist group in the northeast, herder-farmer tensions and banditry in the northwest, and separatist agitations in the southeast.


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