The Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram has released 21 girls held in captivity, believed to be the largest group freed since a mass kidnapping took place at a school in April 2014.
Boko Haram kidnapped about 276 girls in the middle of the night in a boarding school in Chibok — located in the northern Borno province — in 2014. About 50 were able to escape immediately, but many more are still missing.
Garba Shehu — the spokesman for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari — confirmed the release of the girls now in the custody of Nigerian officials with the Department of State Services (DSS). The release between the militant group and the Nigerian government was brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government, Shehu added on social media.
President Buhari was informed of the girls’ release prior to his state visit in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The militant group Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of other women and girls in similar fashion, releasing a video in August that purportedly showed recent footage of some of the Chibok girls, saying that they were killed in airstrikes, the Washington Post reported. Last year, the Nigerian military rescued 450 women and girls from Boko Haram camps, though none of them came from Chibok.
The mass kidnapping of the Chibok girls sparked international anger and protests, with celebrities like Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama supporting the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
— Malala Fund (@MalalaFund) May 4, 2014
The release of the girls came one day after a bomb blast in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, killing eight people and injuring 15. After that attack, Buhari said that the “attack has further strengthened our resolve to completely neutralize Boko Haram.”
The release of some of the girls come at a time when millions in Nigeria, one of Africa’s wealthiest nations, are on the brink of starvation. About 1.5 million people have fled Boko Haram, setting up makeshift camps and receiving little help from international agencies. An additional two million people are inaccessible because of the militant insurgency in northeast Nigeria. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that 400,000 children under five will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in that region this year. UNICEF is currently facing a significant shortfall to its humanitarian appeal, receiving only $28 million of the $115 million requested assistance.