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Two and a half years after nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from a school in northeastern Nigeria, the government said on Thursday that 21 of them had been freed, the biggest breakthrough in an ordeal that has shocked the world and laid bare the deadly instability gripping large parts of the country.

Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that has killed thousands of civilians, overrun villages and terrorized the region, seized the girls from a school in the town of Chibok on April 14, 2014. For many around the globe, the mass abduction provided a stunning introduction to a militant group that had been waging war against Nigerians for years.

Soon after the girls were kidnapped, an international campaign began urging the Nigerian government to do more to secure their release, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and drawing support from Michelle Obama and others.

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A still from a video released in August showing a man described as a Boko Haram fighter with some of the girls abducted from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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