Boko Haram militants handed over 21 Chibok schoolgirls to authorities Thursday after a series of negotiations, Nigeria’s government said, in the first mass release of any of the more than 200 girls and women kidnapped from their school two years ago.
The 21 were freed before dawn in the northeastern Nigerian town of Banki, near the border with Cameroon, a source close to the negotiations said on condition of anonymity.
They are said to have been among the 218 girls and women, ages 16 to 18, that Boko Haram militants herded from bed in the middle of the night at a boarding school in Chibok in April 2014 — a kidnapping that spurred global outrage.
A child born to one of the girls and believed by medical personnel to be about 20 months old also was released, according to the Nigerian president’s office.
As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately in 2014, and one was found this spring. Just under 197 remain unaccounted for after their release.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered the deal between the Islamist militant group and the Nigerian government, said Mallam Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
Terms of the deal were not immediately announced, but no captive Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, the source with knowledge of the negotiations said.
After their release, the former captives went to meet with the governor of northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state, and later taken to the central Nigerian city of Abuja, Borno officials said.
In Abuja, the girls were met with hugs from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and wife Dolapo Osinbajo.
On Twitter, Osinbajo wrote: “Dawn, dusk, almost a 1000 days. Twenty-one of our girls are back. It is my joy to welcome you home. The nation has been waiting for you.”
Oby Ezekwesili, who had been in the forefront of the campaign for the return of the girls expressed her joy over the return of the 21 girls.
“It is 913 DAYS, that 218 ….. No. Scratch that. 197 of OUR
#ChibokGirls have been held CAPTIVES of Terrorists. 21 are NOW BACK! Wow!!”
“With tears of UNSPEAKABLE JOY at the release of 21 of OUR
#ChibokGirls, WE cry out and use them as a Point -Of-Contact for the rest 197″
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