More than 300 schoolchildren reunited with their families a week after they were abducted from their school in northwestern Nigeria.
The boys arrived by bus in Katsina, the state capital of the same name, where they were met by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Looking tired, some were still wearing school uniforms, while others were gathering gray blankets.
State authorities now say the children have been abducted by local bandits.
The militant jihadist group Boko Haram had claimed to be behind the mass abduction, but some experts were skeptical because it occurred far outside their normal area of operations.
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According to Governor Aminu Bello Masari, 344 boys have been released, but others remain missing.
They were abducted on December 11 in an attack on a school in Kankara.
How were the boys greeted?
Flanked by armed police, the boys went in a single file from buses to a government building to meet with President Buhari and the governor. They were also to undergo medical examinations.
The parents were happy to reunite with their sons. “I couldn’t believe what I heard until the neighbors came to tell me it was true,” a mother told Reuters.
“I’m so excited,” said another mother who waited anxiously with the other parents after seeing her boy, 15. “I have to cry, the cry of joy when I saw him,” she told the news agency. AFP.
A boy told a television station that the group was fed bread and cassava during captivity and that it was cold. He said he was “very happy” to be back in Katsina.
Addressing the released children, Governor Masari said: “You have suffered physically, mentally and psychologically, but let me assure you that I have suffered more and your parents have suffered more.”
Earlier, he told the press: “I think I recovered most of the boys – not all of them.”
How was the release secured?
The government insists that no ransom was paid, but that the boys were released after negotiations with the kidnappers.
Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle, in whose state the boys were released, told the BBC that three separate negotiations had taken place before ensuring the freedom of the students.
They were released in the town of Tsafe in Zamfara on Thursday night, authorities say.
Mr Matawalle told BBC Hausa that during the negotiations, the kidnappers had raised various grievances.
“Among their complaints was the way people kill their cattle and how various vigilante units bother them,” the governor said, adding that the government has promised to look into the kidnappers’ complaints.
Conflicts between pastoralists and farming communities are common in the central and northwestern states of Nigeria, says Nduka Orjinmo of the BBC in Lagos.
Both groups have been fighting for decades, but deadly clashes have increased in recent years as farming and pastoralist communities have hired armed vigilantes, especially in northwestern Nigeria.
A spokesman for Governor Masari, Abdul Labaran, told the BBC that the boys had been held by bandits.
“It wasn’t Boko Haram,” he said. “The local bandits we know over time have been responsible. These are people we know very well, I met some of their leaders. That’s why an umbrella body of the breeders’ association was used. In contacting them. So the negotiation was done through this umbrella body of cattle breeders. “
How did the school attack take place?
Witnesses say gunmen attacked a school in Kankara on Friday night. Many students jumped the school fence and ran away when they heard gunshots.
Some were pursued by gunmen, who tricked them into believing they were security personnel, said the students who escaped. Once these students were surrounded, they were guided into the nearby forest by armed men.
On Thursday, a video with the Boko Haram logo was released, showing dozens of boys, some of whom looked very young.
One of the boys said they had been taken captive by the “Abu Shekau gang”. Abubakar Shekau leads Boko Haram, a group known for school kidnappings, including one in Chibok in 2014, when nearly 300 schoolgirls were confiscated.
The name of the group, which is based in northeastern Nigeria, translates vaguely as “Western education is prohibited.”
Armed attacks and kidnappings are widespread in the northwest and are often blamed by bandits, a free term for gangs operating in the area.
Amnesty International says more than 1,100 people have been killed by bandits in the first six months of this year, with the government failing to bring the attackers to justice.
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