29 Apr 2015

Nigeria: 300 girls and women ‘rescued from Boko Haram camp’

The Nigerian army says it has rescued 200 girls and 93 women from a Boko Haram camp, but the schoolgirls seized in Chibok a year ago are not among them.

Nigerian special forces (Reuters)

The 300 girls and women were apparently rescued during a military operation to wrest back control of the Sambisa forest, in the north east of the country, from the militant group.

Colonel Sani Usman told Reuters: “So far, they (the army) have destroyed and cleared Sassa, Tokumbere and two other camps in the general area of Alafa, all within the Sambisa forest.” He said the 200 girls from Chibok were still missing.

Boko Haram’s actions in Chibok in April 2014 caused an international outcry and led to the creation of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which has been using social media to raise awareness of the girls’ plight and has the backing of US First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Thousands killed

The Islamist group’s six-year insurgency has seen thousands killed and many more abducted.

Diplomats and intelligence officials believe at least some of the Chibok girls were being held in the forest about 100km (60 miles) from Chibok, although US reconnaissance drones have not managed to locate them.

Speaking about the 300 girls and women, an intelligence official told Reuters: “Now they are excited about their freedom. Tomorrow there will be screenings to determine whether they are Boko Haram wives, whether they are from Chibok, how long they have been in the camps, and if they have children.” Some of the girls were injured, and some of the militants killed, he said.

'I met 24 of the Chibok schoolgirls held by Boko Haram' - read Jonathan Miller's blog

In recent months, the Nigerian military has taken back control of most locations over-run by Boko Haram. The group, notorious for violence against civilians, controlled an area roughly the size of Belgium at the start of the year, but has been forced back by Nigerian troops, backed by Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as “western education is sinful”, is trying to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. Last year, it offered a prisoner swap to release the Chibok girls, but this was rejected by the Nigerian government.