Twenty-one of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago have been released, the president’s spokesman said Thursday.
Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said on Twitter today that the schoolgirls, kidnapped by the Islamic terrorist organization in 2014, are now in the custody of Nigeria’s Department of State Services.
Shehu added that the agency “wants the girls to have some rest, with all of them very tired coming out of the process.”
The girls’ release was the result of negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government, Shehu said.
However, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Twitter that it, instead, acted as a “neutral intermediary.”
There are also conflicting reports over whether the schoolgirls were exchanged for detained Boko Haram fighters. Information Minister Lai Mohammed has said the government didn’t arrange a “swap,” BBC reported.
Shehu said that negotiations for the release of the other girls will continue.
Boko Haram abducted more than 270 girls in April 2014 from the Nigerian town of Chibok. Dozens initially escaped, but around 197 are still missing. The kidnapping of the schoolgirls, along with the failure of the Nigerian government to quickly free them, ignited an international outcry.
The ensuing #BringBackOurGirls online campaign received support from prominent figures like first lady Michelle Obama and women’s rights and education activist Malala Yousafzai, who wrote in an open letter to the abducted girls, “Like you, I was a target of militants who did not want girls to go to school.”
“Remember that one day your tragic ordeal will end, you will be reunited with your families and friends,” Yousafzai wrote. “Until then, stay strong, and never lose hope. You are my heroes.”
On Thursday, the #BringBackOurGirls group released a statement on Facebook, saying they were “extremely delighted and welcome the news.”
“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,” the statement read.
Nineteen-year-old Amina Ali Nkeki, one of the abducted girls, escaped her captors in May and told her family that some of the girls died of illness and that others, including her, had been married to militants and impregnated, the Associated Press reported.
Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and the internal displacement of more than 2 million, according to Amnesty International’s figures.
The terrorist organization pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.