Two days after rescuing 293 girls and women kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Nigerian army has found about 160 more captured women and children in the Sambisa Forest, the terror group’s stronghold in northeast Nigeria, according to media reports. An army spokesman said the Chibok schoolgirls were not among the rescued women, but Nigeria’s military headquarters said it was too soon to tell.
“We are still trying to compute the actual number of those rescued. But tentatively there are about 60 women of various ages and around 100 children,” Nigerian army spokesman Sani Usman told Agence France-Presse Thursday. “They have been evacuated to a safety zone for further processing.”
An anonymous military source told AFP that Boko Haram had used the former hostages as human shields against the military operation this week, and in some cases the captives fired back at Nigerian troops. Usman told CNN one woman was killed during the rescue operation while eight of the freed hostages sustained wounds. “Many of those kidnapped have undergone psychological trauma and indoctrination,” he added.
The troops rescued 200 girls and 93 women Tuesday, the Nigerian Defense Headquarters said. But an unnamed Nigerian army spokesman told Reuters the former hostages were not the missing schoolgirls, whom Boko Haram militants infamously seized from the town of Chibok last year.
Both groups of hostages rescued this week were found in the Sambisa Forest, which covers more than 23,000 square miles – mostly across Borno, Yobo, Gombe and Bauchi states in northeast Nigeria. It was thought the schoolgirls were still being held in the area, but experts have said it’s unlikely the hostages are still alive one year later.
Officials are still screening the freed captives to determine their identities, when they were kidnapped and from where. In addition to finding hostages, Usman told AFP Nigerian troops have cleared numerous “terrorist training camps” in the area and have seized equipment and vehicles from the Islamist militants.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people since launching the brutal insurgency in northern Nigeria six years ago. The Nigerian army has said much of the group’s territory has been recaptured with the help of African coalition forces. Borno state residents have also told local newspapers the militants had run out of arms and ammunition. Still, Boko Haram has abducted more than 2,000 girls and women since the start of last year, and many have been forced into sexual slavery and trained to fight, Amnesty International said earlier this month.
“Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions,” Salil Shetty, secretary general for the human rights group, said in a statement. “Recent military successes might spell the beginning of the end for Boko Haram, but there is a huge amount to be done to protect civilians, resolve the humanitarian crisis and begin the healing process.”