Officials: 24 more abducted Nigerian students free

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Twenty-four more Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists have escaped and 85 still are missing, an education official said Friday.

Some of the women jumped off the back of a truck when they were kidnapped before dawn Tuesday from a high school in the extreme northeast of Nigeria. Others have escaped into the Sambisa Forest, which borders their school in Chibok town and is a known hideout of militants of the Boko Haram terrorist network.

"So far, we give thanks to God, for what we now have is 44 girls" who have escaped, the Borno state education commissioner, Musa Inuwo Kubo told The Associated Press by telephone Friday night.

He said some of the latest escapees were found Wednesday nearly 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from their school.

Extremists have been attacking schools and slaughtering hundreds of students in the past year. In recent months they have begun kidnapping students, who they use as cooks, sex slaves and porters.

But this week's mass abduction is unprecedented. The attackers also burned down many houses in the town.

The extremists have been on a rampage this week that started with a massive bombing attack on a busy bus station at rush hour on Monday in Abuja, the capital in the center of the country, that killed at least 75 people. Twenty others were killed in attacks on two villages. And a soldier and police officer guarding the school in Chibok also were killed.

More than 1,500 people have been killed in the Islamic uprising this year, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013. The attacks have undermined Nigerian government and military claims that they are containing the insurgency in the extreme northeast of the country.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful," believes Western influences are corrupting and wants to install an Islamic state in Nigeria. Africa's most populous nation of about 170 million is divided about equally between mainly Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

Nigeria's military has remained inexplicably absent from Chibok, Kubo said, describing residents' "displeasure" that no security forces have come to secure the area since the attack.

Angry parents and all able-bodied men from the town have taken to the Sambisa Forest to try to find the students despite the dangers of confronting extremists.

The Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, claimed in a statement Wednesday that all but eight of the 129 abducted students had been freed by security forces. But he retracted that statement on Thursday.