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Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls released by gunmen

Nigerian schoolgirls have been returned   -  
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Ibrahim Mansur/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Nigeria

Gunmen have released all 279 girls kidnapped from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria, officials said on Tuesday.

The students from the town of Jungebe in Zamfara state were abducted after midnight on Friday. State governor Alhaji Bello Matawall said all the girls are accounted for and in good health.

One of those released girls spoke of their ordeal.

"Suddenly we started hearing gun shots. They were shooting endlessly," the unnamed schoolgirl said. She explained how everybody fled her dormitory until just she was left with another girl from her hometown.

The girl said the gunmen were pointing their weapons at them and asked them to show them where the staff quarters and the principal were.

“We said we don't know who she is. They said the principal is our father and they will teach us a lesson," she continued.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed "overwhelming joy" over the release of the girls from days of captivity, vowing tougher action against kidnappers.

Officials said the figure given last week by police that 317 had been kidnapped was no longer accurate.

Friday’s raid on the Government Girls Science Secondary School was the second such abduction in little over a week in northwest Nigeria.

Boarding schools in the region have become a target for kidnappings for ransom by armed criminal gangs known as "bandits", who also steal livestock.

Insecurity in northern Nigeria

Zamfara authorities are accustomed to discussing amnesty agreements with criminal groups with whom they have been negotiating for over a year in exchange for the handing over of their weapons.

Zamafara officials also negotiated the release last December of 344 abducted schoolboys in neighbouring Katsina.

Authorities have denied paying any ransom to secure the recent releases but analysts say it is unlikely, causing security experts to fear an increase in kidnappings in these regions plagued by extreme poverty.

Buhari was elected president for the first time in 2015, a year after the mass kidnapping at Chibok, where 276 girls were abducted by the jihadist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria -- triggering an international outcry.

More than one hundred of them remain missing and it is not known how many of them are still alive.

The president had promised to end the conflict in the northeast, but the situation has sharply deteriorated since.