DAKAR — The Nigerian military has retracted its claim that nearly all of the more than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped this week by suspected Boko Haram militants had been released. Nearly a hundred are still believed to be missing.
The principal of the Government Girls secondary school in Chibok, Asabe Kwanbura, said that 32 of the kidnapped girls have escaped. That's up from a reported 20 girls on Thursday.
"Some jumped down [from] inside the lorry. Some escaped [from] within the camp," said Kwanbura.
The state education commissioner confirmed the figure, saying those 32 girls were safe and accounted for Friday.
A total of 129 girls are thought to have been at the school when armed men arrived early Tuesday to take them away in trucks. The girls were only there to sit for final exams as their school was among those closed in the northeast in March for security reasons.
Defense Headquarters had released a statement Wednesday saying that all but eight of the kidnapped girls were free, something relatives of the girls and school authorities said was a lie. Most of the girls are still missing.
The defense ministry spokesman issued a correction late Thursday saying that his initial statement was based on faulty information and "was not intended to deceive."
But the fumble is a further blow to the military's credibility as it faces mounting criticism for its handling of the insurgency in the northeast.
Borno state education commissioner, Musa Inuwo Kubo, says in an interview with VOA that the false report of the girls' release has only heightened their parents' "impatience and apprehension."
"When you come to the town, you see all parents are in a mourning mood. Everybody is sad, sad in the sense that there was a glimpse of hope when it was announced that they've secured the release and up to now they cannot see the children," said Kubo.
Local vigilante groups and hunters have set out on what Defense Headquarters says is a "frantic" search for the girls in the dangerous forests near the Cameroonian border where the girls are believed to be held. The military is also looking.
No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, though many are pointing to the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, which has attacked other schools in the northeast. The group has also reportedly been abducting girls and young women to serve as spies, cooks and servants.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in northern Nigeria since 2009. The group says it wants to impose a harsh form of Islamic law, which would include banning all forms of Western education.
The kidnapping was one of three attacks this week attributed to Boko Haram, including a bombing in the capital, Abuja.