The Nigerian army on Monday freed at least 182 people in Borno state who were suspected members of Boko Haram. The detainees included about 100 men, 24 women, 18 teenagers and 40 children who had been arrested months ago in northern Nigeria over their alleged ties to the Islamist militant group, according to local media reports.
Nigerian army chief Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah released the prisoners at a military base in Borno state capital Maiduguri, after an investigation cleared them of any link to the Boko Haram sect. Their release coincided with this year’s Nigerian Army Day Celebration, during which the soldiers who have fought the Boko Haram insurgency were honored with special awards, according to online news site Sahara Reporters.
Among the prisoners were nursing mothers who were arrested while pregnant and delivered their babies in detention. Gov. Alhaji Kashim Shettima said the freed suspects will receive assistance reintegrating into society and returning to normal life, according to Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust.
The suspects were granted freedom just as Boko Haram appears to be ramping up attacks. More than two dozen people, including children, were killed from a bomb blast in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna state on Tuesday. Boko Haram did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack but it bore the hallmarks of the terror group, which has killed more than 200 people in the past week.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn to eradicate Boko Haram fighters from the West African nation. Buhari, who took office May 29, relocated Nigeria’s anti-insurgency command center from Abuja to Maiduguri, which has suffered numerous attacks by suspected Islamist militants.
Boko Haram launched its brutal insurgency in northern Nigeria six years ago and more than 15,000 people have died since then. Another 1.5 million others have been uprooted from their homes, according to the United Nations refugee agency.