Boko Haram militants handed over 21 Chibok schoolgirls to Nigerian 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 former captives 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.
Some of the 21 freed girls appear Thursday in Banki, Nigeria, in a photo obtained exclusively by CNN.
They are said to have been among the 276 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.
As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, and one was found this spring. Just under 200 remain unaccounted for after Thursday‘s 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.
The release is “a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the administration to put a closure to the sad issue of the (kidnappings),” Nigerian information minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed told reporters in Abuja.
“We see this as a credible first step in the eventual release of all the Chibok girls in captivity,” Mohammed said.
Terms of Thursday’s 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 they will be taken to the central Nigerian city of Abuja, Borno officials said.
“We welcome reports … of the negotiated release of 21 of our abducted #ChibokGirls today,” the Nigeria-based #Chibokgirls campaign said in a statement Thursday.
“Following this development, we trust that our government will continue to work to keep the safety, security, and well-being of the other girls a high priority.
“We further urge the international community to continue to support our government’s effort to rescue all other abducted Nigerians, so that parents, the Chibok community, the nation, and the world can finally put an end to this nightmare once and for all.”
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