At least 31 people are still being held hostage by gunmen who attacked a train in northwestern Nigeria in March, President Muhammadu Buhari said Thursday.
Eight people were killed and dozens abducted on March 28 when the attackers detonated a bomb on a railway track and opened fire on the train from Abuja to Kaduna, a city where criminal gangs ply their activities.
"I have been informed that at the last count, about 31 people remain in the hands of the kidnappers," President Buhari said in a statement, assuring that he would do everything possible to free the remaining hostages while ruling out a military offensive.
After meeting with their families in the capital Abuja, Buhari said he understood their "strong emotions" and calls for the use of force to free their loved ones.
"This option was considered" but ultimately "reluctantly discarded," he explained. "The conditions to ensure a positive outcome and minimize potential collateral damage could not be assured."
The president assured that his "main concern" is that the hostages be released, "safe and sound."
The kidnappers are demanding the release of 16 of their imprisoned commanders in exchange for the hostages. On several occasions, they have threatened to execute the captives while releasing about 20 of them.
President Buhari did not say whether the government had agreed to their demands.
In early July, the kidnappers had released seven hostages in need of "urgent medical attention," according to an intermediary. And according to security sources, 11 hostages were released in June in exchange for several of the kidnappers' children.
Several security sources believe that fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist group Ansaru cooperated with criminal gangs in the attack.