Over 300 Nigerian schoolboys were returned Thursday after a devastating kidnapping where students at the Kankara Government Science Secondary School in Katsina were ambushed by members of Boko Haram. Last week the group claimed responsibility for the attack, marking one of the largest mass school kidnappings.
The Katsina Post tweeted images of the 334 boys en route to the forest of the neighboring Zamfara state, where they would undergo medical examinations and treatment, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Their release undoubtedly comes as great relief to their families, educators and government officials after a video circulated earlier in the week, the Journal reports, showing a group of schoolboys emotionally pleading for help. In the video, the boys claimed that some of their peers had been killed and also urged for leaders to shutter schools.
In 2014 the world outside of African nations became increasingly aware of the jihadist group Boko Haram, who delighted in the horrifying act of kidnapping over 270 girls in Chibok, located in northeast Nigeria. At least 100 of the girls are still missing.
Last week the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys much like 2014’s rallying call #BringBackOurGirls, began trending on social media with the hope that the students will be returned to their families. Many feared their sons may be turned into foot soldiers, or trafficked for money and resources. Government officials received ransom requests from bandit groups who claimed responsibility.
According to reports, over 100 gunmen armed with AK-47 on motorcycles ambushed the school on Dec. 11, forcing some of the students to flee into hiding spaces or the nearby forest. Those who could not outrun or hide were taken into captivity.
“The sound got louder, then I ran and jumped out of the window and over the fence of the school and ran along with many others into the forest. We spent the night there, because we were afraid to come back to the school,” one of the students, Musa Adamu, 18, told The Guardian.
Students described the attack undoubtedly as unsettling, some who escaped reported they had to march through a nearby forest for hours before they were able to make their way back to school grounds.
Government officials fear Boko Haram members are moving further into the northwestern regions of Nigeria, after having carried out their attacks primarily in the northeast. But their reign of terror has not waned in the northeast. Earlier this month, Boko Haram was named responsible for the killing of 76 farmers in Zabarmari, a village in northeastern Nigeria. Investigators believe the workers were killed over providing government officials about Boko Haram’s whereabouts in the area.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who hails from the Katisna state, condemned the act of terror as a “cowardly … attack on innocent children.” But the country’s most vulnerable feel they have been left without leadership or protection from groups like Boko Haram and bandit groups who target rural areas most at risk to robberies and attacks.