82 Chibok hostage girls taken three years ago by Boko Haram have been freed in exchange for detained suspects, Nigeria’s government announced early Sunday, in the largest release negotiated yet in the battle to save nearly 300 girls whose mass abduction exposed the mounting threat posed by the Islamic State-linked fighters.
The statement from the office of President Muhammadu Buhari was the first confirmation that his government had made a swap for the Chibok hostage girls. After an initial release of 21 Chibok hostage girls in October, the government denied making an exchange or paying ransom.
The April 2014 abduction by Boko Haram brought the extremist group’s rampage in northern Nigeria to world attention and, for families of the schoolgirls, began years marked with heartbreak.
Some relatives did not live long enough to see their daughters released. Many of the captive girls, most of them Christians, were forced to marry their captors and give birth to children in remote forest hideouts without ever knowing if they would see their parents again. It is feared that other girls were strapped with explosives and sent on missions as suicide bombers.
As word of the latest release emerged, long-suffering family members said they were eagerly awaiting a list of names and “our hopes and expectations are high.”
113 of the Chibok hostage girls still remain unaccounted for.
The freed girls were expected to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday in the capital, Abuja.