Eighty-three Chibok schoolgirls seized three years ago by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria have been released into military custody, authorities said late Saturday, a dramatic development in the mass abduction that brought the extremist group’s rampage to world attention.
Family members said they were eagerly awaiting a list of names and “our hopes and expectations are high.”
It was the second group release of Chibok schoolgirls. Nigeria’s government in October announced that 21 girls had been freed after negotiations with Boko Haram, saying another group of 83 would be released “very soon.” Before Saturday’s release, 195 of the girls had remained captive.
“Huge numbers,” the personal assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bashir Ahmad, tweeted late Saturday.
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.
The number released could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press, and there was no official government announcement late Saturday.
On Friday, the United States and Britain issued warnings that Boko Haram was actively planning to kidnap 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.
The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in April 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram over the years.
The mass abduction shocked the world, sparking a global #Bringbackourgirls campaign supported by former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and other celebrities. It has put tremendous pressure on Nigeria’s government to counter the extremist group, which has roamed large parts of the north and into neighboring countries.