The release comes hours after Boko Haram terror group released a video purportedly showing some of the more than 300 schoolboys abducted last week from a government boarding school in the northwestern town of Kankara.

Demonstrators gather to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, on December 17, 2020.
Demonstrators gather to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, on December 17, 2020. (Reuters)

More than 300 schoolboys kidnapped in northern Nigeria have been handed over to government security, the Katsina state governor said in a televised interview.

"The abducted students of the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara have been rescued, the Katsina State Government has confirmed the news," Bashir Ahmad, personal assistant to Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter.

READ MORE: Families of kidnapped Nigerian boys fear they might join Boko Haram

'It's not all of them'

Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masari said in a televised interview with state channel NTA that a total of 344 boys held in a forest in neighbouring Zamfara state had been freed.

"We have recovered most of the boys. It's not all of them," he said.

The boys were on their way back to Katsina state and would be medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday, Masari said.

The December 11 abduction gripped a nation already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram's 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.

Boko Haram video

News of the release came shortly after a video was released by the rebels of Boko Haram that purportedly showed the abducted boys. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abduction.

In the more than six-minute video seen by Associated Press journalists, the apparent captors tell one boy to repeat their demands that the government call off its search for them by troops and aircraft.

A voice can be heard telling the boy, who is clearly under duress, what to say from behind the camera. The youth says they were kidnapped by a gang directed by Boko Haram factional leader Abubakar Shekau and that some of those abducted from the Government Science Secondary School were killed.

The video circulated widely on WhatsApp and first appeared on a Nigerian news site, HumAngle, that often reports on Boko Haram.

Government officials said police, the air force and the army tracked the kidnappers to a hideout in the Zango/Paula forest. There has been an outcry in the West African nation against the government for not doing enough to stop attacks on schools, as well as villages , in the north.

Experts say the attack was likely carried out by local gangs, who have staged increasingly deadly assaults in northwest Nigeria this year, and could possibly have been collaborating with Boko Haram.

Parents of the missing students have been gathering daily at the school in Kankara for news of their sons.

The government first identified the attackers as bandits, who are known to use child soldiers.

Earlier, Masari said 17 boys have been rescued since the initial abduction.

Katsina state shut down all its boarding schools to prevent other abductions. The nearby states of Zamfara, Jigiwa and Kano also have closed schools as a precaution.

Armed bandits have killed more than 1,100 people since the beginning of the year in Nigeria’s northwest, according to Amnesty International.

Bloody campaign

For more than 10 years, Boko Haram has engaged in a bloody campaign to introduce strict Islamic rule in Nigeria’s north. Thousands have been killed and more than 1 million have been displaced by the violence.

Boko Haram has been mainly active in northeast Nigeria, but with the abductions from the school in Katsina state, there is worry the insurgency is expanding to the northwest.

In February 2014, 59 boys were killed when the group attacked the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe state.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies