The Nigerian army released 250 people linked to the Boko Haram terrorist group Sunday after they were cleared of any wrongdoing, military officials said. The announcement came after human rights activists have repeatedly accused the military of unfairly holding suspected Boko Haram militants without providing evidence of their alleged terrorist activity.
The people who were released Sunday were given $10 and handed over to local government officials. The military did not say how long the suspects had been detained. The group included 169 men, 46 women and 34 children, local media reported.
"Yesterday, a total of 249 cleared suspected Boko Haram terrorists and accomplices were released… as approved by the chief of army staff in Maiduguri,” said army spokesman Sani Usman Monday.
Many of the detainees were from Borno State in northern Nigeria, where at least 20,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict between the federal government and Boko Haram fighters. Boko Haram is the world’s deadliest terror group, with more than 11,000 killings in 2015, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The violence has left 2.6 million people homeless since 2009 and the Nigerian government has promised to shut down the militant group.
Amid the anti-terrorism efforts, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused the army of arbitrarily detaining people for alleged ties to Boko Haram and holding them in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Some of the suspects have died from disease, hunger, dehydration and injury during their detention. Others have been tortured or executed, according to human rights activists. The suspects have reportedly been denied legal representation.
Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen Yusuf Tukur Buratai said the release of detainees Sunday signaled "respect for human rights as manifested in the painstaking efforts that led to their clearance and subsequent release," a statement from the army said.
Nigerian troops are continuing to target Boko Haram suspects in northern Nigeria near the Sambisa forest, a hide out for the militant group. The military killed two armed insurgents and injured an unknown number of alleged Boko Haram fighters in a battle in Borno State last week, according to local media reports Monday.
Usman said the military's battle against Boko Haram has been hampered by the local climate, with army vehicles and war machines getting stuck in the marshy terrain.
"In their bid to clear the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists hiding in some parts of the North Eastern of the country, troops have intensified efforts on clearance operations," he said in a statement. "The troops killed 2 of the Boko Haram terrorists, while some of them sustained gunshot wounds as could be seen from traces of blood during mopping up. They also recovered 1 AK-47 rifle with 29 rounds of 7.62mm (Special) ammunition, a bow and arrows, a Tecno mobile telephone handset, 1 wallet and an Identity Card of Animal Dealers Association, amongst other items."