Nigerian military retracts claim that nearly all abducted students were released

CNN/ Newswire | 4/17/2014, 4:49 p.m.
In an embarrassing blow to its perception from an increasingly skeptical public, the Nigerian military retracted Thursday a report that ...
Nigeria's military combed the woods in search of more than 100 school girls who were abducted earlier this week by Boko Haram Islamists, authorities said Wednesday.

By Aminu Abubakar, Faith Karimi

and Steve Almasy CNN

KANO, Nigeria (CNN) -- In an embarrassing blow to its perception from an increasingly skeptical public, the Nigerian military retracted Thursday a report that nearly all the 129 girls kidnapped this week from a school by suspected Boko Haram militants had been released.

Just hours after one of the parents of an abducted girl claimed the Defense Ministry had lied Wednesday about all but eight girls finding freedom, the military issued a statement from the director of defense information that the initial report was "not intended to deceive the public."

Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade's statement didn't indicate how many of the girls were unaccounted for as of Thursday.

It said only: "The number of those still missing is not the issue now as the life of every Nigerian is very precious."

Distraught parents have waited for news for four days, putting their faith in a military rescue, said Lawan Zanna, father of one of the students.

They feel "shock and disbelief" that the government resorted to "blatant propaganda" and a "blatant lie." Parents now wonder if the military is even trying to rescue their children, he said.

Olukolade said the military received a "major breakthrough" report from a reliable source that supposedly included information from the principal at the school from which the students were taken Monday night by gunmen.

But the principal denied having done so. "I never made that claim to anybody," said Asabe Kwambura, principal of Government Girls Secondary School in the northeastern town of Chibok.

"A total of 14 out of the 129 students taken away managed to escape and the rest are still being held by their captors," Kwambura said.

Olukolade called the discovery of the misinformation an "unfortunate development indeed."

How many are still missing?

Musa Inuwa Kubo, the Borno state education commissioner, said Thursday that 30 students had come home.

But the principal and Zanna each put the number at 14. Three girls escaped their captors Wednesday and were returned home by herdsmen, Zanna said. Some other girls escaped from a broken truck as the abductors stopped, he said.

The military said "ongoing frantic efforts" of security forces, vigilante groups and hunters are attempting to find and free the students.

Rescue teams, aided by surveillance helicopters, were moving deeper into the vast forest that extends into neighboring Cameroon and other states in the region, Ali Ndume, a senator representing southern Borno state, said Wednesday.

A broken-down truck believed to have been part of the kidnappers' convoy was found at the edge of the forest, which suggests the abductors took their hostages into the woods on foot, he added.

Escaped kidnapping victim: We 'ran into the bush'

The incident began Monday night, when militants engaged in a gunbattle with guards at the boarding school, and then herded the students onto vehicles and drove off, authorities said.

"They left with us in a convoy into the bush," said one girl who escaped, but, citing security concerns, declined to identify herself. "A group of motorcyclists flanked the convoy to ensure none of us escaped."