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Insurgents In Nigeria Release Most Of Schoolgirls Abducted Last Month

Mar 21, 2018
Originally published on March 22, 2018 6:57 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In a surprise move, suspected insurgents in northeast Nigeria have released more than 100 schoolgirls they abducted last month. The return of the girls came with a warning from their captors - no more school. That's the mantra of the extremist group Boko Haram. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring developments, and she has more for us now. Ofeibea, thanks so much for joining us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

MARTIN: I understand that this really audacious mass kidnapping which was on February 19 is believed to have been done by a breakaway faction. Do we know any more?

QUIST-ARCTON: What we're being told is that early this morning, residents heard that Boko Haram was coming to their town again. For the second time in just over a month, they scarpered. Everybody hid. But it wasn't a what they had expected - another attack. It was apparently the captors of these 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi bringing them back but, as you've said, bringing them back with a warning - saying, don't ever put your daughters in school again.

So what the community thought was going to be bad news again has turned into a surprising move and the release of most of these girls, although with some exceptions, we're told. But about a hundred girls, give or take, have been released.

MARTIN: Do we know anything about why the people who abducted these girls decided to release them?

QUIST-ARCTON: Out of pity, apparently, is what they said. They talked to the girls whilst the community was cowering, thinking that this was a second attack, and then they immediately drove off. But Michel, of course the government has said that there would be negotiations with the captors to try to ensure the release of these girls. So one month and two days on - good news it looks like.

MARTIN: And Ofeibea, I want to remind everybody that earlier this month, you went to the Dapchi town where the schoolgirls were abducted. And again, this appeared to be a copycat kidnapping just like the one that got so much international attention in Chibok in 2014. And you met many members of the community at that time.

QUIST-ARCTON: And let me describe Dapchi. It's a village - you know, maybe a small town. It's sandy. It's fairly poor, but it has this huge girls school just out of town - a thousand students. Now, we were told at the time that most of them had managed to run away. But of course a hundred-plus - 110 were abducted.

The town was grieving - deep sorrow. And now there is euphoria and jubilation in Dapchi right now but tempered because it seems the residents are saying that some of these schoolgirls say about five have died. And one girl, we're told, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, is still being held captive.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Ofeibea, is the government saying anything else, anything specifically about this unexpected development, anything about, you know, why this whole thing happened to begin with?

QUIST-ARCTON: The government is focusing on the positive because they have really been under the gun for, A, not having had enough military protection of schools in the northeast. And we're not just talking about Dapchi. We're talking about all over, where Boko Haram, although it no longer holds territory, Michel, is still capable of suicide bombing attacks and, as we've seen in this past month, the abduction of a hundred schoolgirls after abducting 276 four years ago. So Boko Haram is not a spent force.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's recently been on assignment in Dapchi, northeast Nigeria. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: For once, good news from northeast Nigeria. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.