Scores of Nigerian schoolgirls who were among more than 200 kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 have been released, multiple sources told AFP on Saturday, with unconfirmed reports that at least 80 have been freed.
“I can confirm they have been released,” said a senior government minister, who asked not to be identified, adding that an official statement would be released later.
A military and a civilian militia source in Banki, near the border with Cameroon, said “at least 80” girls were brought to the town late afternoon on Saturday.
“The girls are now lodged in the military barracks and will be flown to (the Borno state capital) Maiduguri tomorrow (Sunday),” said the military source.
The civilian militia member and a resident at the camp in Banki for those displaced by the Boko Haram conflict gave an identical account.
Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said he was told of the release by the Bring Back Our Girls pressure group and an official in Maiduguri.
He added: “This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.”
Bring Back Our Girls said it was awaiting an official statement but added: “Our hopes and expectations are high as we look forward to this news being true and confirmed.”
Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok on the evening of April 14, 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenaged girls who were preparing to sit high school exams.
Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, whose fight to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead since 2009, claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam.
The audacious kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanised support from the former US first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood stars.