MAIDUGURI, Nigeria - Able-bodied men from the Nigerian town of Chibok have taken to the dangerous Sambisa Forest to search for more than 100 abducted girls and young women whom the military claimed to have freed from their Islamic extremist kidnappers, an education official said Thursday.
Six more have managed to escape their captors on their own, bringing to 20 the number that are free, the education commissioner of Borno state, Musa Inuwo Kubo, told reporters.
He spoke at a news conference where parents of the kidnapped students expressed their anguish over a Defense Ministry statement claiming to have freed all but eight of the students by Wednesday night.
"The military had really gladdened our hearts. But now we are left in confusion," said Lydia Ibrahim, whose three cousins are among the kidnapped.
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, had said in a statement late Wednesday that the principal of the school from which the young women were abducted had confirmed that all but eight were freed.
But the principal, Asabe Kwambura, denied that to the Associated Press and flatly contradicted Olukolade, saying "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."
Olukolade on Thursday night retracted his statement, which he said had been based on a field report indicating "a major breakthrough."
Kwambura said only 14 of those kidnapped by gunmen before dawn Tuesday have returned to Chibok - four who jumped from the back of a truck soon after the abductions and 10 who escaped into the bush.
Inuwo said six more girls have returned home - two found wandering in the forest by soldiers and four who had made their way to a village.