Boko Haram has released nearly 200 hostages, most of them women, who were kidnapped from a village in the northeast Nigerian state of Yobe, a community leader and a military source told AFP Saturday.
A total of 192 people were released on Friday from two Islamist enclaves, where they had been kept since a January 6 raid on Katarko, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the state capital Damaturu.
In all, 218 women and children were abducted.
“Boko Haram have released 192 of our women they kidnapped early this month,” Goni Mari, a Katarko community leader told AFP from Damaturu.
“They brought them in two batches in four trucks and dropped them at Girbuwa village, eight kilometres from Damaturu, from where we conveyed them to the city and they were taken into government custody.”
The raid on Katarko saw dozens of Boko Haram gunmen storm the village, where they killed 25 men and burnt homes and businesses before kidnapping the women and children.
The attack was apparently in retaliation over a raid by local hunters and vigilantes in nearby Buni Yadi, where several militants were killed and scores more arrested, vigilantes said at the time.
But with Boko Haram raids a near daily occurence in the restive northeast, and no precise figures on the numbers of people taken, the attack received little publicity.
Boko Haram fought running battles with troops in Damaturu the following Friday, again in an apparent reprisal to the Buni Yadi raid.
A military officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, also confirmed the release of the hostages.
Mass abduction has been a feature of Boko Haram’s bloody six-year insurgency, with young men and boys forcibly conscripted to fight alongside the militants.
Women and young girls have been taken to be wives for the Islamists, with reports from those who were freed or escaped of forced labour, sexual and psychological abuse.
Mari said his wife, two daughters and seven-year old son were among the released hostages, who were taken by the authorities to a primary school.
But he said Boko Haram was still holding 26 young boys, including his 10-year old son. His seven-year-old son was rescued after his mother disguised him as a girl in hijab.
The official added that the hostages said they were released because they refused to fight alongside the militants, who called them “infidels”.
“From the information my wife told me, they were asked by their captors if they wanted to join Boko Haram and fight jihad with them,” Mari said.
“When they declined they packed them into four trucks and dumped them at Girbuwa and told them to go and meet their fellow infidels in Damaturu.”
A local politician from the area, who asked not to be identified, said Boko Haram kept the hostages in the town of Buni Yadi and Ajigin village, which they seized several months ago.
“They (Boko Haram) are still holding 26 young boys they abducted along with the released hostages in Katarko,” the politician confirmed.
Human Rights Watch said in a report published in October last year that more than 500 women and girls have been abducted since the start of the insurgency in 2009.
But other estimates put the figure far higher. Boko Haram’s most notorious mass abduction was in April last year, when it seized 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, in Borno State, triggering global outrage.
Fifty-seven managed to escape but 219 are still being held. Last month at least 185 people, including women and children, were kidnapped during an attack in the town of Gumsuri, some 70 kilometres from Chibok.
Photo Credits : AFP