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Boko Haram returns hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys

Boko Haram returns hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys
© Getty Images

Hundreds of Nigerian schoolboys kidnapped by Boko Haram last week were released to the government Thursday, the local state governor announced. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Gov. Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State said in a televised interview Thursday that 344 boys had been given to state authorities in a forest more than one hundred miles from the school where they were abducted last Friday. 

Masari added that the boys would immediately be receiving medical attention and are scheduled to meet with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday. 

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This comes two days after Boko Haram, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officially claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The students were abducted at gunpoint from the Government Science Secondary School in Katsina. 

The Daily Nigerian reported that it received an audio message from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau saying his group abducted the schoolboys because Western education violates the tenets of Islam, according to The Associated Press

At least 600 boys were able to escape the assault on the school, AP reported, while attackers engaged in a gunfight with local police. 

Earlier Thursday, Boko Haram released a video purportedly showing one of the schoolboys begging to the Nigerian government to dissolve the army and vigilante groups, as well as schools, according to The New York Times

“We have been caught by a gang of Abu Shekau,” he reportedly said. “Some of us were killed.” 

“You have to send them the money,” he added.

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A dozen smaller boys crowded around him in the video and said, “Help us,” to the camera, the Times reported. 

In a BBC interview recorded before news broke of the release, Masari said the kidnappers had contacted the father of one of the abducted boys and demanded that the government pay ransom.

“We have an idea where they are, but we are trying to make sure there is no collateral damage, that the children are brought back safely,” he said during the interview. “So that’s why we are treading carefully and softly.”

The Times reported that Masari told a Deutsche Welle television reporter following the release that the government had not paid Boko Haram any money.

Nigeria has come under increased international scrutiny for its handling of terrorist groups and alleged abuses by Nigerian forces. 

The U.S. last week designated Nigeria for the first time as a Country of Particular Concern over violations of religious freedom, one of the most serious designations from the State Department that opens the country up to sanctions.