The Nigerian military rescued the 344 boys who had been kidnapped last week during an attack on the Government Science Secondary School in Katsina. The rescue operation was conducted late Thursday by military forces.

Last Friday, over 100 gunmen on motorcycles had attacked the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, located in Katsina state. The school, which houses about 800 students, was ransacked. The schoolboys bolted for safety, but 344 of them were rounded up by the gunmen and led away. 

It is now appearing that the kidnappers were not members of the Boko Haram terrorist group but bandits who operate in the area. The bandits apparently were masquerading themselves to appear as Boko Haram. 

The governor of Katsina, Aminu Bello Masari, congratulated the military forces. “The Armed Forces know their job. They have been well trained and properly motivated.”

Abdu Labaran, a spokesman for Masari, said to CNN that children seen in a video released earlier on Thursday were indeed the same students who were kidnapped a week ago. The video included the logo of Boko Haram.

The voice narrating in the video was purported to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Yet, it was in fact a bandit mimicking Shekau’s voice according to Masari. An earlier audio message that was released after the kidnapping had been reportedly by Shekau as well. 

Shekau is a shadowy figure. In 2009, he was shot in the leg during the initial Boko Haram uprising with resulted in the death of the organization’s first leader Mohammad Yusuf. Shekau has been reportedly killed a number of times: in 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2016. But after each time he has appeared in videos mocking those who claimed to have killed him. 

Katsina state has been having an issue with kidnapping by armed bandits for some time. Boko Haram also has its hands in the practice. Back in 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from the town of Chibok. Of those, over 100 have still to be returned to their families. 

President Buhari spoke about the return of the kidnapped children on Thursday. “This is a huge relief to the entire country & international community.” But he added that his administration was supposed to end the kidnappings, which hasn’t happened yet.

“When we came in, we made efforts that yielded the return of the Chibok Girls. When a similar incident of school abduction happened at Dapchi, we successfully returned all but one of the more than 100 abductees,” he said. “When this latest incident happened, we put in our efforts and today we have this result to show.”

Masari later spoke with state media and provided additional details. 

“At the moment, 344 of the students have been handed over to security agents. I think we have recovered most of the boys if not all of them,” he said.

Masari added, “by tomorrow we will get them medically examined, and then arrangements will be on the way to reunite them with their families.”

The Guardian reported that Nigerian security forces had located the bandits and the kidnapped schoolboys and had cordoned off the area. The military troops were ordered not to fire a shot in an effort to protect the lives of the kidnapped children. 

“We had already established indirect contact to try to make sure that we secure the release of the children unharmed,” Masari said. “We thank God that they took our advice and not a single shot was fired.”

Masari added that President Buhari’s administration will continue “working with the police and also to engage private security firms to safeguard schools” to prevent a recurrence of the “ugly experience of the last six days.”