All kidnapped Nigerian college women have been freed, says the governor

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© Reuters. Kidnapped school girls released in Zamfara

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By Afolabi Sotunde and Seun Sanni

GUSAU, Nigeria (Reuters) – Gunmen rescued all 279 kidnapped girls from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, officials said Tuesday as victims told Reuters how their kidnappers beat them and threatened to shoot them.

According to previous reports, 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School (GGSS) in the city of Jangebe, Zamfara state, were abducted by an armed gang at around 1 a.m. on Friday.

Zamfara government spokesman Sulaiman Tanau Anka said some of the missing girls had run into the bush at the time of the attack and the number of abductees was 279.

Everything has been liberated, said the governor of Zamfara, Bello Matawalle.

Boarding schools in northern Nigeria have become targets for mass ransom kidnappings by armed criminal gangs, a trend started by the Boko Haram jihadist group and continued by its offshoot, the Islamic State Province of West Africa.

The Zamfara raid was the second such abduction in just over a week in the northwest, a region that is increasingly being attacked by gangs.

Governor Matawalle said “repentant bandits” who worked with the government on an amnesty program helped secure the release of the Jangebe girls.

“These penitents work for us and they work for the government and they work for safety,” he said.

“THEY BEAT US WITH GUNS”

Reuters journalists in Zamfara’s state capital Gusau saw dozens of girls in Muslim veils sitting in a hall in a government building. A couple of parents came and one father cried with joy after seeing his daughter.

Most of the girls appeared unharmed, but at least a dozen were taken to the hospital.

Umma Abubakar, among those released, said that many of the girls could not walk. “Most of us got injured in our feet and couldn’t keep walking. They said they would shoot anyone who didn’t keep walking.”

Farida Lawali, 15, told how she and the other girls had been taken to a forest by the kidnappers.

“They carried the sick who cannot move. We walked in the stones and thorns,” she said, and sat in the government building, covered with a light blue veil.

“They started beating us with guns so we could move,” she added. “While they were hitting them with guns, some of them cried and moved at the same time.”

President Muhammadu Buhari said the news of the girls’ release brought “overwhelming joy”.

He warned against paying ransom to kidnappers, which the national government has denied.

“Ransom payments will continue to lead to kidnappings,” Buhari said, calling on the police and the military to bring the kidnappers to justice.

A father, whose seven daughters were among those abducted and released, said the incident would not prevent him from teaching his children.

“It is a ploy to deny our girls the Western education we are far behind in,” Lawal Abdullahi told Reuters. “We shouldn’t succumb to blackmail. My advice to the government is that they should take immediate action to stop further kidnappings.”

As recently as Saturday, armed men released 27 teenagers who had been kidnapped from their school on February 17 in the Nigerian state.

In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 school girls from the northeastern city of Chibok, Nigeria’s most famous school kidnapping. Around 100 are still missing.

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