Most of the abducted schoolgirls return home in Nigeria, officials say
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Almost all of the 110 schoolgirls abducted by suspected Boko Haram fighters in northeast Nigeria last month have returned home, officials said Wednesday.
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Suspected militants of the Nigeria-based jihadist group allegedly stormed the town of Dapchi in Yobe State on the night of Feb. 19 and snatched 110 students from an all-girls boarding school. Other students and teachers were able to escape the attack and flee into the surrounding brush, according to a statement from Yobe State government spokesman Abdullahi Bego.
More than a month later, at least 101 of the schoolgirls were freed by their captors early Wednesday morning, according to Nigeria's minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
"They were not dropped in one place. They were dropped on the road and they went back across Nigeria to their parents' houses," Mohammed told reporters in the capital of Abuja.
The girls were released "through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country," and their freedom was unconditional, according to a press release from the minister's spokesperson, Segun Adeyemi.
The minister said the use of military force and confrontation was "ruled out" during negotiations with the captors in order to ensure the girls' safety.
"It was agreed that there would be no force and no confrontation," Mohammed told reporters.
Dapchi residents told The Associated Press that they hid in fear as suspected Boko Haram fighters rolled into their town in vehicles and dropped off the schoolgirls. According to resident Ba'ana Musa, the militants then left them with an ominous warning: "We did it out of pity. And don't ever put your daughters in school again."
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After reuniting with their families in Dapchi, the students were taken to a nearby general hospital where they received medical attention and psychosocial support, Mohammed said.
He added that the number of freed students could still increase as officials continue to document all those who were released.
A source at the general hospital in Dapchi told ABC News that they received and treated 103 of the freed schoolgirls on Wednesday.
However, one of the freed schoolgirls, Fatsuma Abdullahi, said five of her classmates at the Government Girls Science Technical College in Dapchi died while the kidnappers herded them into vehicles.
"They died while we were being taken because we were loaded like woods and people sat on them." Abdullahi said in a recorded telephone conversation released to reporters. The abducted students were then taken to an underground hideout, she said.
Another freed schoolgirl, Khadija Grema, told The Associated Press that one of her classmates wasn't released because she refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.
"We were freed because we are Muslim girls and they didn't want us to suffer. That is why they released us," Grema said.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language, has routinely targeted schools since launching its brutal insurgency in northeast Nigeria in 2009. In April 2014, the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their boarding school in the town of Chibok in Borno State, about 170 miles northeast of Dapchi. Some of the girls managed to escape on their own, while others were later rescued or freed following negotiations. But the fate of many of the girls still remains unknown.
Boko Haram, which seeks to establish an Islamic state, has spread its terror across Nigeria's mountainous borders over the years into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, all of which surround the Lake Chad Basin. The group's uprising was fueled largely through its systematic campaign of abducting children and forcing thousands of girls and boys into their ranks, according to a report issued in April 2017 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
ABC News' Clark Bentson and James Bwala contributed to this report.
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