A Nigerian government official says that five militants commanders have been released in exchange for the 82 Chibok girls. The confirmation Sunday comes a day after the young women were liberated after more than three years in captivity by the Islamic militants.
There was no comment yet from the Nigerian presidency or militants, an extremist group linked to the Islamic State. The official who confirmed the release spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the matter.
Authorities say 113 of the 276 girls abducted from their boarding school back in 2014 remain missing. Girls who escaped said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home either because they’d been radicalized by their captors.
82 Chibok schoolgirls abducted three years ago by militants extremists in northern Nigeria have been released into military custody, authorities said yesterday.
A Nigerian military official with direct knowledge of the rescue operation said the 83 freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon.
“The location of the girls kept changing since yesterday when the operation to rescue them commenced,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make the announcement.
On Friday, the United States and Britain issued warnings that militants was actively planning to abduct foreigners in an area of Borno state “along the Kumshe-Banki axis.” That’s close to where the Chibok girls were reported to be found.
A special adviser to Nigeria’s president says the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls have arrived in the capital, Abuja, a day after their release.
Femi Adesina says the girls have been received at the airport by the president’s chief of staff. They are expected to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari later Sunday.
This is the largest release since militants seized 276 schoolgirls from Chibok three years ago. Nigeria’s government says the release came in exchange for some suspected militants members who had been detained by authorities.
The 276 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok in northern Nigeria in April 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by militants over the years. The mass abduction shocked the world and put tremendous pressure on Nigeria’s government to counter the extremist group.
Many of the abducted girls, most of whom were Christians, were forced to marry the Islamic extremists and became pregnant. Human rights advocates believe others could be among the young girls who have been used to carry out suicide bombing attacks.
The group representing the families of the girls said they were awaiting direct confirmation from the government.
“Our hopes and expectations are high as we look forward to this news being true and confirmed,” said Sesugh Akume with the (hash)BringBackOurGirls campaign. The Nigerian government has denied that a ransom was paid in the October release and that it freed some detained militants fighters in exchange for the girls. The negotiations were mediated by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
At the three-year anniversary of the abducting in April, the government said the latest negotiations had “gone quite far” but faced challenges. Buhari late last year announced militants had been “crushed,” but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its campain has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
The abducted Chibok schoolgirls: a timeline
Following is a timeline of events since the militants jihadist group abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in the remote town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2014.
– Snatched from school –
On April 14, 2014, militants gunmen seize 276 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state.
The girls are forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven girls manage to flee.
militants leader Abubakar Shekau claims responsibility in a video released on May 5, and vows to sell the girls as slave brides.
A week later, a second video shows about 100 of the missing girls. militants says they have converted to Islam and will not be released unless militant fighters held in custody are freed.
– Global response –
An international media campaign is launched, backed by US First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls fires up a social media storm.
On May 17, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria vow to fight militants together, in what Cameroon President Paul Biya terms a “declaration of war”.
The UN Security Council says the abductings “may amount to crimes against humanity”, as Britain, China, France, Israel and the US offer help.
US military specialists deploy to neighbouring Chad but later move elsewhere after Nigeria stops requesting their services.
On May 26, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff Alex Badeh says the girls have been located but warns a rescue operation would put their lives at risk.
– One year on –
On April 14, 2015, Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari warns he “cannot promise that we can find” the girls, as vigils are held in many countries to mark their first year in captivity.
Amnesty International says the girls may have been separated into three or four groups and are being held in camps, some of which might be in Cameroon or Chad.
Buhari says in late December he is willing to negotiate with any “credible” militants leadership, a week after claiming the country has “technically” won the war against militants.
Other victims freed –
Throughout 2015, the Nigerian military announces the rescue of hundreds of people, most of them women and children, who have been abducted by militants.
But the missing schoolgirls are not among them, despite several unconfirmed sightings.
Suicide attacks using women and young girls increase against “soft” civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, fuelling fears that militants might be using its captives as human bombs.
In March 2016, it emerges that militants also seized 500 women and children from the north east town of Damasak in Borno state just months after the Chibok abduction. The abducting was denied at the time.
– ‘Proof of life’ –
On the eve of the abduction’s second anniversary, militants sent a “proof of life” video which shows 15 of the girls — the first concrete indication that at least some are still alive.
On May 18, 2016 the Nigerian army confirms the first of the schoolgirls has been found.
The 19-year-old, who later meets President Buhari, was discovered with a four-month-old baby and a man she described as her husband near militants’s Sambisa Forest enclave.
– Prisoner exchange –
On October 13, 2016, Nigerian officials announce the release of 21 of the girls following talks between the government and militants brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross.
Local sources say four jihadist prisoners were freed as part of the deal to secure the girls’ release.
The Nigerian government raises the prospect that more releases could follow, with a senior official in the president’s office saying that “the negotiations will continue”.
– ‘At least 80’ more released –
At least 80 more girls have been released, security sources, a senior minister and Enoch Mark, the father of two of the girls, say.