ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian security forces have rescued dozens of captives mostly women and children held by Islamic extremist rebels in the country’s hard-hit northeastern region, the army said.
The Nigerian army said late Monday the 25 captives were rescued during “clearance operations” by its troops in Borno state’s Gwoza district, a hotbed for the jihadi violence that has upended lives and livelihoods in the region since 2009, when Boko Haram extremists launched an insurgency.
Fourteen of the captives were first to be rescued on Saturday in Gobara village while 11 others were freed on Sunday when troops raided the rebel hideout in Gava village, both around 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Borno state capital, Maiduguri, said army spokeman Onyema Nwachukwu.
The army shared pictures of the freed hostages that included toddlers. Most of them looked malnourished and wore worn-out clothes, suggesting that they might have been held for a long time.
“All rescued victims are presently in troops’ custody undergoing profiling,” Nwachukwu said, describing the operations as part of the “unrelenting efforts to clear remnants of Boko Haram terrorists enclaves” in Borno and other states.
He said that seven members of a “Boko Haram terrorist family” surrendered to troops on Sunday in a separate operation. They included three adults and four children.
Boko Haram, whose name in the local Hausa language loosely translates to mean “Western education is a sin,” launched the 2009 insurgency to establish Islamic Shariah law in Nigeria. Now split into different factions, the most powerful backed by the Islamic State, the extremists often target women, children and security forces in remote parts of northeast Nigeria.
At least 35,000 people have been killed and 2.1 million people displaced as a result of the extremist violence which has spread to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, according to data from U.N. agencies in Nigeria.