Nigeria's military rescued 344 schoolboys who were kidnapped during an attack on a school in Katsina State last week. File Photo by Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA-EFE
Dec. 17 (UPI) -- More than 300 schoolboys who were kidnapped in northern Nigeria were rescued on Thursday, state officials said.
The Nigerian military rescued 344 of the boys who were kidnapped during an attack on the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina state last week, according to Abdu Labaran, a spokesman for Katsina Gov. Aminu Bello Masari.
Masari told CNN that children in a video released earlier Thursday that included the logo of the Boko Haram militant group were the same students who were kidnapped.
A large group of men armed with AK-47s overwhelmed security at the school before marching more than 300 students into the forest.
Boko Haram has previously attacked residents in the northeastern part of Nigeria and experts say the kidnapping marks a significant spread for the militant organization.
Masari, however, denied that Boko Haram was involved in the kidnappings, instead blaming them on "local bandits." Masari also suggested that a voice in the video claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, a leader of one of Boko Haram's factions, was actually a bandit "mimicking" his voice.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the release of the children and described their safe return as "a big relief to their families, the entire country and international community," spokesman Garba Shenu wrote on Twitter.
The country has faced a rise in kidnappings, with one of the most notable involving 270 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014 by Boko Haram's Shekau faction. While the Nigerian army rescued 80 of those girls, more than 100 never returned home.
Buhari on Thursday acknowledged that his administration was elected to bring an end to the kidnappings.
"When we came, we made efforts that yielded the return of the Chibok Girls. When a similar incident of school abduction happened at Dapchi, we successfully returned all but one of the more than 100 abductees," he said. "When this latest incident happened, we put in our efforts and today we have this result to show."