MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Another 14 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeast have escaped, leaving 85 missing on Saturday after an attack that has sparked global outrage, an official said.
The unprecedented mass abduction of 129 teenage girls from the Chibok area of Borno state has been described as among the most shocking ever by Boko Haram, an extremist group blamed for killing thousands since 2009.
“I am glad to say that 14 more students have escaped from their abductors,” Borno’s education commissioner Inua Kubo told journalists.
“With this development, we have 44 out of our 129 students.”
It was not immediately clear how this latest group managed to flee, although Kubo said 11 had been found after running to a town on the Damboa road which connects Chibok to Borno’s capital Maiduguri.
They have since been sent to their family villages, while the three others had returned to their school in Chibok and were being cared for there, he said.
“We are hopefully expecting the return of our 85 students as intensive search and rescue efforts continue,” Kubo said.
Some of the girls who escaped within a day of the April 15 attack said the Islamists had taken the hostages to the Sambisa Forest area of Borno state, where Boko Haram is known to have well-fortified camps.
The military said it had launched a major search and rescue operation, but some in the region say they have lost confidence in the security forces after the defence ministry issued an erroneous report claiming that most of the girls were safe.
That statement, issued late Wednesday, said all but eight of those abducted were free, but defense spokesman Chris Olukolade was forced to withdraw the report on Friday after it turned out to be inaccurate.
Boko Haram, whose name loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden”, has repeatedly attacked schools during its five-year uprising, including the mass slaughter of students in their sleep.
The attack on the girls’ school came just hours a bomb blast at packed bus station on the outskirts of Abuja killed 75 people, the deadliest attack ever in the capital.
President Goodluck Jonathan held an emergency meeting with his national security council on Thursday to review the latest unrest, with another meeting set for next week.