By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Suspected Islamic kidnappers in northern Nigeria have released dozens of Christian school students, but parents remain concerned about scores of others still missing, Christian officials say.
So far, 34 children kidnapped from the Bethel Baptist High School in the northern town of Damishi on July 5 have either been released or escaped from the custody of the gunmen.
Among them, 28 students who were unexpectedly released July 24 and have since been reunited with their families, Worthy News learned.
Security forces discovered others, said a spokesman for the Nigerian Police, Mohammed Jalige. He said security forces and civilian defense forces were on a routine rescue patrol July 12 around the forests near the village of Tsohon Gaya when they found three exhausted kidnapped victims roaming in the bush.
Two other students escaped on July 20 when they were ordered to fetch firewood from a nearby forest, Jalige said. He added all have been undergoing medical examinations.
But in published remarks, Reverend Israel Akanji, president of the Baptist Convention, confirmed that the gunmen are still holding some 80 other children.
The gunmen have reportedly demanded 500,000 Naira ($1,200) for each student, a massive amount for many impoverished residents.
Akanji stressed the church did not pay any ransoms because it is opposed to paying criminals.
However, he added they could not stop the children's families from taking actions they deem fit to secure their release.
Authorities have blamed armed "bandits" looking for ransom for the raids. But Christian rights activists have linked the attacks to Islamic fighters such as Fulani militants.
“Many of these types of attacks have directly targeted Christians over the years, adding the element of jihadism as a factor,” said advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC).
VOMC, which closely followed the case, urged its supporters “to pray for the protection of the many students remaining in captivity.”
The group told Worthy News that “parents and other family members” are “presently trying to cope with the uncertainty and fear of not knowing the whereabouts nor the present status of their missing loved ones.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has come under mounting pressure to improve the security of Christians, including students.
He won recent elections on hopes that he would tackle Nigeria’s security challenges.
But critics say he has either been unable or reluctant to tackle the growing cases of mass abductions from Nigerian schools.
Shooters have carried out a spate of mass abductions from schools in northern Nigeria this year.