Group of 344 kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys handed to government

More than 300 schoolboys, who were kidnapped in northern Nigeria have been rescued, the Katsina state governor has said.

The boys arrived by bus in Katsina, capital of the state of the same name, where they were met by President Muhammadu Buhari.

President Buhari commended what he called the "spirit of partnership and the collaborative efforts of the government of Katsina, Zamfara and military leading to the release."

Jihadist militant group Boko Haram had claimed to have been behind the mass kidnapping but some experts were sceptical because it occurred well outside their normal area of operations.

The children are among more than 800 students enrolled at Government Science Secondary School, an all-boys boarding school in the rural town of Kankara in Katsina state. Gunmen stormed the school grounds in the middle of the night on 11 December and kidnapped hundreds of students.

“At the moment, 344 of the students have been handed over to security agents. I think we have recovered most of the boys if not all of them," said Aminu Bello Masari.

“By tomorrow we will get them medically examined and then arrangements will be on the way to reunite them with their families," he added.

In the rescue operation, security forces had cordoned off the area where the boys were being held and had been given instructions not to fire a single shot, he said.

Masari said the government will be “working with the police and also to engage private security firms to safeguard schools” to prevent the “ugly experience of the last six days”.

The government insists no ransom was paid but that the boys were released after negotiations with the kidnappers.

The government insists no ransom was paid but that the boys were released after negotiations with the kidnappers.

The raid was initially blamed on bandits who have terrorised the region for years, but on Tuesday Boko Haram claimed responsibility.

Some were tracked by the gunmen, who allegedly tricked them into believing that they were security personnel. Once these students were rounded up, they were marched into the nearby forest by the armed men.

On Thursday, a video was released bearing Boko Haram's emblem, showing dozens of boys, some of whom appeared to be very young.

One of the boys said they had been taken captive by "the gang of Abu Shekau". Abubakar Shekau leads Boko Haram, a group notorious for school kidnappings.

Boko Haram, whose name in the local Hausa language roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden," has waged a brutal insurgency in northeastern Nigeria since 2009, but has not previously claimed responsibility for attacks in the northwest.

Amnesty International says more than 1,100 people were killed by bandits in the first six months of this year, with the government failing to bring the attackers to justice.

Boko Haram has been targeting Nigerian schools for a number of years. One of the most well-known attacks happened in April 2014, when Boko Haram fighters abducted 276 girls from their dormitory at a boarding school in Chibok, a town in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state.