MAIDUGURI (Nigeria) • Nigeria's army said it has freed nearly 180 hostages - including more than 100 children - held by Boko Haram militants in a dramatic weekend rescue.
The operation in the country's conflict-torn north-east also led to the capture of a Boko Haram commander, an army spokesman said in a statement late on Sunday.
The military said earlier that it had killed a "large number" of the extremists in airstrikes in the north-east.
The operation took place on Sunday near Aulari, about 70km south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, which was once a militant stronghold. "During the offensive operations, 178 people held captive by the terrorists were rescued," a military spokesman, Colonel Tukur Gusau, said, without specifying when the rescue took place.
"They include 101 children, 67 women and 10 men." The Nigerian military has announced the release of hundreds of people held by Boko Haram in recent months, especially in the notorious Sambisa forest, a long-time extremist stronghold.
The airstrikes hit the village of Bita on the fringes of the forest not far from the Cameroonian border, where Boko Haram was preparing to launch an offensive, the military said. "Many militants were killed," it added.
Sunday's rescue came after several attacks by Boko Haram in recent days. Thirteen people were killed in an assault on Malari village about 20km from Maiduguri.
Local farmer Moha Saleh confirmed the death toll and said 27 people were wounded when the militants stormed the village. "They also set many houses ablaze after accusing us of telling soldiers their whereabouts," he said.
Local resident Goni Musa, a vigilante who fights Boko Haram alongside the Nigerian military, gave the same death toll.
State police commissioner Aderemi Opadokun confirmed the attack but gave a lower toll, saying seven people had been killed.
Malari has been the target of numerous attacks in recent months, including a suicide bombing by a youth in a mosque in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last month which left 12 people dead. Boko Haram has increasingly expanded its operations into neighbouring countries in recent months, prompting Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger to launch a coordinated military fightback.
The four countries, with Benin, are preparing to launch a new 8,700-strong force that officials say will go into action soon.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou on Sunday vowed that the new regional force would "eradicate" the insurgents.