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82 More Chibok Schoolgirls Freed In Militant Exchange

Some of the recently freed girls from Chibok wait in Abuja on May 7, 2017 to meet President Muhammadu Buhari after a prisoner swap deal secured their release.
AFP/Getty Images
Some of the recently freed girls from Chibok wait in Abuja on May 7, 2017 to meet President Muhammadu Buhari after a prisoner swap deal secured their release.

Eighty-two schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in 2014, were freed Saturday in exchange for the release of suspected militants, according to a statementfrom the Nigerian president's office.

The statement credits the Government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among other N.G.Os, with helping negotiate the girls' release.

The Associated Press reports five Boko Haram commanders were freed in the swap.

The girls met with President Muhammadu Buhari in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Sunday. Buhari tweeted photos of the freed captives and said, "This evening I received 82 of our daughters, who have just regained their freedom after three years in Boko Haram captivity."

But Amnesty International objected to that meeting, saying the girls should be released quickly to their families and don't deserve to be put through a "publicity stunt that largely doesn't reckon with their privacy."

"Some of the young women," NPR's Ofeibea Quist Arcton reports, "looked bewildered and weary by all the attention."

Their release comes less than a month after the third anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from the Chibok boarding school in northeastern Nigeria on the evening of April 14, 2014. The brutality of the act sparked a global outcry, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls sweeping social media and unifying outraged citizens and political leaders alike, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

But the groundswell eventually waned and the Associated Press reports, many of the girls were forced into marriages with their captors and others were feared to have been forced into suicide bombing missions. Some relatives never lived to see their daughters' freed.

After Saturday's release, 113 schoolgirls remain unaccounted for.

Ofeibea reports, "Many people say this is hope because the government is talking to the insurgents." But after three years in captivity, the situation has become complicated and there may be brainwashing involved. "Apparently, some of these Chibok girls and other abductees do not want to return because they consider these Boko Haram fighters now their husbands," Ofeibea says.

Boko Haram released21 of the school girls in October 2016. Others escaped and were found roaming the Sambisa forest, one of the insurgents' hideouts in the northeast. Some of the girls brought babies fathered by the militants.

The schoolgirls are among thousands of men, women and children taken by Boko Haram, an Islamist group that has terrorized Nigeria for eight years and whose name translates to "Western education is forbidden." Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Amy Held is an editor on the newscast unit. She regularly reports breaking news on air and online.