Nigerian army frees nearly 180 hostages held by Boko Haram

Soldiers assist the people rescued from Boko Haram camps onto a truck in Nigeria.
Soldiers assist the people rescued from Boko Haram camps onto a truck in Nigeria. PHOTO: AFP

LAGOS (AFP) - The Nigerian army has freed 178 people being held hostage by Boko Haram militants including more than 100 children, it said late Sunday, as it carries out a regional offensive aimed at rooting out the insurgency.

“During the offensive operations, 178 people held captives by the terrorists were rescued. They include 101 children, 67 women and 10 men respectively,” army spokesman Colonel Tukur Gusau said in a statement.

The rescue took place near Aulari about 70 km south of Maiduguri, the biggest town in northeast Nigeria, he said, without specifying when the operation was conducted.

“In addition, one Boko Haram terrorists commander was captured alive and is presently undergoing investigation,” the spokesman said.

The Nigerian military has announced the release of hundreds of people held captive by Boko Haram in recent months, especially in the notorious Sambisa forest, a long-time Islamist stronghold now affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, the army said it had released 30 hostages including 21 children about 90 km east of Maiduguri, and 59 captives in another operation near the town of Konduga in the same area.

Earlier Sunday, the Nigerian military said it had conducted air strikes on the village of Bita, not far from the Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram was preparing to launch an offensive. “Many” militants were killed, the military said, without elaborating.

Boko Haram’s bloody insurgency in Nigeria alone has left more than 15,000 people dead since 2009. In recent months, the group has increasingly expanded its operations into neighbouring countries.