LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nearly 70 students who were abducted from their school in northern Nigeria have regained their freedom after two weeks in captivity, Zamfara state Gov. Bello Matawalle said Monday.
The students from the Government Day Secondary School were rescued with the help of some of the gunmen who had repented, he said. They were reunited with their families late Sunday.
Heavily armed men had descended on the school on Sept. 1, the latest attack in a wave of school kidnappings in northern Nigeria that prompted the government to shut down all primary and secondary schools in Zamfara state.
Police have said that 73 students were abducted and that five were rescued a day later.
Authorities were able to rescue the students with the help of some of the gunmen who had repented.
“Using some of the bandits that repented, we were able to know where they were keeping these children. We worked closely with them for about 10 days and yesterday, at about 2 a.m., the commissioner of police alongside others took off to the location where these children were rescued,” Matawalle said.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria has seen at least 10 abductions over the past year in which 1,436 students have been taken. About 200 students are still being held and 16 children have died in the attacks. School kidnappings have taken place in nine different states, and targets have included everyone from preschoolers to university students.
Authorities have blamed the abductions on bandits who are believed to be motivated by the ransoms paid for the children's release. However, some students held by the bandits have said they also have been threatened to not return to school when they are freed.
That has raised fears that they may be linked in some way to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language translates as “Western education is forbidden.”
Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu told The Associated Press that he had no details of the rescue operation because he was not in the state where authorities blocked telecommunications access.
The phone blackout and other measures including the restriction of late-night movements and vehicular traffic, closure of weekly markets and ban on transportation, were announced in the state amid a joint security operation targeted at the gunmen.
The steps followed security reports that some of the gunmen were collaborating with locals who often act as their suppliers and informants. After the measures were introduced, Zamfara governor said last week that the gunmen were “begging” for amnesty which he declined.
“We have ensured that whatever God has directed us to do, we did. So, what we are doing now is to leave them to answer to God. What we are doing now is to fight with them day and night,” he said.