Nigeria’s military is considering many options, including seeking external help, to rescue over 300 schoolboys of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) Kankara, Katsina State.
A top military officer confided in THISDAY on Tuesday that one of the options being considered is for the federal government to seek assistance from the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) to launch a rescue bid leveraging on its sophisticated technology for such operation.
The military also dismissed claims by Boko Haram that it masterminded the abduction of the pupils last Friday.
It described the claim of the terror organisation, made on Tuesday by its notorious leader, Abubakar Shekau, as mere propaganda.
Meanwhile, amidst efforts to rescue the pupils, Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Masari, said 17 pupils, out of the 333 schoolboys he had earlier said could not be accounted for had escaped from their captors.
Another report, however, claimed that two of the abductees might have been killed.
THISDAY gathered that in addition to the ongoing joint operation launched by the military and other security agencies, rescuing the pupils would be faster with help from AFRICOM.
AFRICOM had recently alerted Nigeria and other West African nations that ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terror groups were making inroads into the West African sub-region, exploiting local differences and collaborating with affiliates.
The United States Special Forces recently rescued an American kidnapped from a farm in Niger Republic in Sokoto State.
During the operations, the Special Forces killed six of the kidnappers, four from Niger and two from Nigeria.
THISDAY gathered that the Nigerian government may be reaching out to the US government (AFRICOM) in view of its recent intelligence alert on the movement of terror groups to the sub-region.
“At many levels, strategic levels there is a flurry of activities to rescue the children safely and keep the peace of the nation,” the source added.
The source said the military was looking at many options irrespective of ongoing negotiations with the kidnappers.
The source also dismissed claims by Boko Haram that it staged the kidnap of the Katsina students as propaganda.
He said: “We have our constitutional mandate, which we are pursuing. We are not discouraging other options, be it negotiations or any other thing.
“We are focused on the rescue of the children, having established location. The issue of collateral damage is also being looked at. The safety of the children is paramount.”
On the claim by Boko Haram that it kidnapped the pupils, the source, who asked not to be named, said: “It is in their character to make such bogus claims in situations like this. It is part of their propaganda. Anything that happens in Nigeria is linked to Boko Haram.
“The fact that they have collaborators is not in doubt but this is propaganda.”
Earlier, the terror group, in an audio message released Tuesday, said it was behind last week’s kidnapping of hundreds of schoolboys in Katsina State.
So far, more than 300 pupils are unaccounted for, but others managed to escape.
The government had previously blamed “bandits” for the attack.
In a four-minute audio message trending on social media, the leader of the deadly Islamic sect, Mr. Abubakar Shekau, claimed his members kidnapped the schoolboys because Western education is against the tenets of Islam.
In the Arabic audio message he translated in Hausa, Shekau said: “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet.
“They are also not teaching what Allah and his Holy Prophet commanded. They are rather destructing Islam. It may be subtly, but Allah the Lord of the Skies and Earths knows whatever is hidden.
“In a nutshell, we are behind what happened in Katsina. The speaker is Abubakar Shekau, leader of Jama’atu Ahlussunna Lid-Da’awati wal Jihad.”
But Shekau did not give details of the attack, the number of the abducted schoolboys nor mention entering into negotiation with the Katsina State Government
Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Masari, in an interview with journalists late on Monday after he briefed President Muhammadu Buhari in Daura on efforts made to rescue the students, said 17 out of the 333 abducted schoolchildren had returned home.
Masari had earlier told the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Salihi Magashi (rtd), who on Sunday led security chiefs on a sympathy visit to the people of the state that 333 pupils were missing after the invasion of the school.
The governor, who said frantic efforts were ongoing to rescue the remaining captives, added that the 17 freed students were released “unconditionally” and had since been reunited with their family members.
He said: “As at today (Monday), information available to me shows that 17 of the missing children have been found. Fifteen of them were found around Dinya in Danmusa. I was informed by the DPO. One other was found through them and the last, the father called that his son has returned home.
“All these missing children who have been found have been reunited with their families since we have shut down the schools. Majority of the missing children are in the forest in Zamfara. But God willing, the children will be returned safely.
“I was told that they spoke with a teacher whose son was also kidnapped that the bandits said the helicopter should stop roving and that they will collect ransom but they didn’t specify. And so they ended the call.”
Masari explained that one of the abducted children’s fathers, who is also a teacher at the school, was contacted by the bandits who warned that security forces should stop aerial patrol of their hideouts.
He added that the bandits demanded that adequate money should be set aside pending the completion of the ongoing rescue mission.
However, two of the abducted students have been reportedly killed by their abductors.
A parent, whose son is among those kidnapped by the bandits, told THISDAY on Tuesday on condition of anonymity that one of the students who escaped from the kidnappers’ den said the hoodlums killed two of the schoolboys in his presence.
He said the student told them that while in captivity, they were made to go through inhumane experiences, including being flogged like animals and fed with wild flora.
Kingsley Nwezeh, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale, John Shiklam, Francis Sardauna in Katsina