ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — An unknown number of Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram extremists in northern Nigeria have been released, a government official said late Saturday. Family members said they were awaiting names and other information before celebrating.
Nearly 200 of the schoolgirls had remained captive after the first negotiated release of 21 girls in October. At the time, Nigeria's government said another group of 83 girls would be released "very soon."
"Huge numbers," the personal assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bashir Ahmad, tweeted late Saturday, without giving details.
Many of the kidnapped girls were forced to marry the Islamic extremists and became pregnant. Human rights advocates believe others could be among the young girls who have been used to carry out suicide bombing attacks.
A Nigerian official said that while some girls had been released by Boko Haram they had not yet reached the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The group representing the families of the girls said they were awaiting confirmation on how many had been released.
"Our hopes and expectations are high as we look forward to this news being true and confirmed," said Sesugh Akume with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
The Nigerian government has denied that a ransom was paid in the October release and that it freed some detained Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls.
At the three-year anniversary of the kidnapping in April, the government said negotiations had "gone quite far" but faced challenges.
The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in northern Nigeria in April 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by the Nigeria-based Boko Haram over the years.
Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been "crushed," but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.