Nigeria denies prisoner exchange after release of 23 hostages kidnapped in March

The Nigerian authorities have denied Monday that the release of 23 people kidnapped in March during an attack on a train connecting the capital, Abuja, with the city of Kaduna (north), has occurred thanks to a prisoner exchange agreed with the kidnappers.

Usman Yusuf, secretary of the committee set up by the Army to address the situation, explained in an interview with Arise television, picked up by the newspaper ‘The Guardian’, that the Government has not reached any agreement to release Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the 23 people held by the kidnappers.

In this way, he has qualified this statement as “false” and “dubious”, while declaring that this “blackmail” will not dissuade the authorities or the military to do their job and eradicate insecurity in the country.

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“The military took over. It has been, essentially, a military operation and (they) gave us the proper environment to talk (with the other party involved). That’s how the negotiation happened,” Yusuf explained about the process.

The announcement of the releases came last Thursday, less than a month after the arrest by the secret police of the intermediary who maintained contacts between the families and the kidnappers, Tukur Manu, arrested in Egypt on his way to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

The train connecting Abuja and Kaduna is considered a safer means of transport than the roads leading into this state, shaken for years by attacks by jihadist groups and criminal gangs that have increased their operations in recent months.

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The attack on the train, which left at least eight dead and more than 160 abducted, took place just days after a group of armed people stormed the Kaduna airport, killing one person and preventing a plane from taking off for Lagos, the economic capital of the African country.

The attacks in Nigeria, previously centered in the northeastern part of the country — where Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), operate — have spread over the last few months to other areas in the north and northwest, raising alarms about the possible expansion of these terrorist and criminal networks, many of which live off the kidnapping of students.

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