Amid freed Nigeria schoolboys’ joyful reunions, fear lingers

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KANKARA, Nigeria (AP) – Schoolchildren released from Nigeria have been reunited with their happy parents after being held captive for nearly a week by gunmen allied with jihadist rebels in the northwest of the country.

Relieved parents hugged their sons on Saturday in Kankara, where more than 340 boys were abducted from the government high school for science on the night of December 11. Other families met their sons in Ketare, about 25 kilometers away. Other boys went to their homes further down in Katsina state.

“When I heard that our boys had been released, I was full of joy and happiness because I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,” said Murjanatu Rabiu, mother of one of the boys.

“We were crying, not knowing what condition they were in,” she said. “When we saw them we were so happy even though they came back with injuries… and very hungry.

Amid the celebrations, however, many school children expressed concern over going back to school, saying their captors threatened them with death if they returned to class. Jihadist Boko Haram rebels in Nigeria claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, saying they attacked the school because they believed Western education was not Islamic.

“Fear grabbed me when they said if they ever saw us at school again, they would kill us,” released Kankara student Usman Mohammad Rabiu said. “I was really scared.”

The 13-year-old boy recounted how the students were forced at gunpoint to walk several kilometers through the bush without food or water. Her feet had sores from hiking the rough terrain. He said his feet were so sore that he could not walk and that he was helped by an older boy who was carrying him on his back. He said he didn’t want to go back to school.

“The reason I won’t go back to school is because I think if I go back to school the bandits will kill me and I won’t see my parents again,” Usman said. “This is the reason why I will not be going back.”

After being released by their captors, the schoolchildren were taken by bus to Katsina, the provincial capital, where they met Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday. The president appeared to downplay the traumatic abduction, telling the boys that they shouldn’t be put off in life by “this little difficulty”.

Another kidnapping of more than 80 students occurred on Saturday evening in a nearby area, but the students were quickly rescued by security forces after a fierce shooting, police said on Sunday.

Saturday night’s kidnapping attempt took place in Dandume, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) from Kankara, the town where the school kidnapping took place.

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