MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The fate of 115 female students abducted by Islamic extremists was thrown into uncertainty Thursday when their school principal denied the Nigerian military’s report that almost all the pupils had been freed.
‘‘Up till now we are still waiting and praying for the safe return of the students. . . . The security people, especially the vigilantes and the well-meaning volunteers of Gwoza are still out searching for them. The military people, too, are in the bush searching,’’ the principal, Asabe Kwambura, said in a telephone interview.
She said only 14 of the 129 girls and young women kidnapped by gunmen before dawn Tuesday have returned to Chibok town: four who jumped from the back of a truck and 10 who escaped into the bush when their abductors asked them to cook a meal.
The principal directly contradicted Major General Chris Olukolade, the Defense Ministry spokesman, who said in a statement Wednesday night that Kwambura herself had confirmed that all but eight of the students have been accounted for. ‘‘The others have been freed this evening,’’ he said. He also said security forces had captured one of the abductors.
Kwambura was adamant: ‘‘So let it be clear that all the information passed on to the media by the military concerning 107 girls is not true.’’
On Thursday night, Olukolade said the military was retracting its statement, which he said had been based on a field report indicating ‘‘a major breakthrough.’’ He added, ‘‘There is indeed no reason to play politics with the precious lives of the students. The number of those still missing is not the issue now as the life of every Nigerian is very precious.’’
Kwambura said the students were kidnapped because of a terrible mistake. She said the insurgents arrived after midnight at her Government Girls’ Secondary School wearing military fatigues and posing as soldiers, a common tactic used by the insurgents. She said she believed them when they told her that they needed to move the girls for their own safety. So she allowed the extremists posing as soldiers to load the students on to the back of a truck.
‘Up till now we are still waiting and praying for the safe return of the students.’Asabe Kwambura, principal of Government Girls’ Secondary School
It was only as the armed men were leaving, and started shooting, that she realized her mistake. The militants killed a soldier and a police officer guarding the school, she said.
Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno state, offered a reward of $300,000 for information leading to the release of the students, who are between the ages of 16 and 18.
Extremists have been on a rampage in Nigeria this week, blamed for four attacks in three days.