Boko Haram Militants Hand Over 21 Missing Chibok Schoolgirls, Nigerian Officials Say

Boko Haram militants handed over 21 missing Chibok schoolgirls to Nigerian officials Thursday morning as part of a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, Nigeria’s government said.

Members of Bring Back Our Girls movement carries banner to press for the release of the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Lagos, on April 14, 2016. (Credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of Bring Back Our Girls movement carries banner to press for the release of the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Lagos, on April 14, 2016. (Credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

The girls are being taken to the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where they will meet with the governor of Borno state, officials in the state said. The girls were not immediately named.

The 21 are said to be among the 276 girls that Boko Haram militants herded from bed in the middle of the night at a school in northern Nigeria in April 2014 — a kidnapping that spurred global outrage.

As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, but scores remain missing. Thursday’s release is the largest group believed freed since the girls were kidnapped two years ago.

Terms of Thursday’s deal were not immediately announced, but no jailed Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, a source with direct knowledge of the release said on condition of anonymity.

Mallam Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said on Twitter that the 21 released girls are now in the custody of the Department of State Services, the Nigerian domestic intelligence agency.

The agency chief has briefed the government, Shehu tweeted, and has said the girls need to rest “with all of them very tired coming out of the process before he hands them over to the Vice President.”

“The release of the girls … is the outcome of negotiations between the (Nigerian) administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue,” Shehu tweeted.

#BringBackOurGirls

The 2014 kidnapping prompted global figures such as Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and first lady Michelle Obama to support a #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Boko Haram aims to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

In previous videos from the militant group, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, demanded the release of Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the Chibok girls.