Early Wednesday morning, Boko Haram militants returned to the town of Dapchi, Nigeria, to release dozens of schoolgirls they abducted in February back to their families.
Sky News reports that 91 of the 110 girls who had been kidnapped were returned, while the New York Times notes that a final count is still being tallied. The Nigerian government says that it is still negotiating the release of more girls.
Some girls yet to be accounted for may have died from thirst during their abduction, according to a local government worker who spoke to the Times.
Photos from local villagers show the militants returning to Dapchi heavily armed and masked in a truck crammed with the kidnapped girls. Witnesses told Sky News that after unloading the girls from the truck, Boko Haram said they returned the girls “out of pity,” and warned the parents to never put their daughters in school again. Boko Haram had kidnapped the girls from a local secondary school on Feb. 19.
But the Nigerian government says that the return of the girls was unconditional. In a statement given by Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, the girls’ freedom was secured “through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country.” Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, also took to Twitter to emphasize that no ransom was paid for the girls’ release.
Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” first seized international attention after kidnapping 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. Dozens of those girls are now free after the Nigerian government paid millions of dollars in ransoms and released high-level Boko Haram commanders, but many of the abductees were forced to marry their kidnappers and have yet to be released. More than 100 of them are still missing.
As Sky News reports, Amnesty International has criticized the Nigerian government’s response to the latest Boko Haram kidnapping. The human rights organization alleged in a recent report that the government failed to act after being told that militants were on their way to Dapchi.
The government, meanwhile, denies that it received any intelligence on Boko Haram before the February kidnapping.