Nigeria liberated 71 people held hostage by ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram jihadists in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, including 66 women and children, according to the country’s military.
Boko Haram held some of the captives for as long as a year, The Associated Press (AP) learned.
“I was waiting for death… they often threatened to kill us,” Yagana Kyari, a woman in her 20s, told AP, noting that she had been captured at her village of Kawuri and taken to a terrorist camp in Walimberi, located about 25 miles from Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeastern Nigeria, known as the birthplace of Boko Haram.
She said the captives often suffered from chronic hunger because the Islamic extremists refused to feed them.
“Our gallants troops have rescued a total number of 59 civilians in two camps of the terrorist group,” noted Col. I.T. Gusau, a spokesman for Nigeria’s army. “Many of the terrorists were killed in the course of the operations, but mop up is still going on.”
Except for five senior men, all of the 71 abductees were women and children, he revealed.
He said that 59 were rescued on Thursday, including 29 women, 25 children, and the five elderly men.
The other 12, all women and girls, were freed on Wednesday from Kilakisa, 55 miles southwest of Maiduguri, according to the army spokesman.
However, Boko Haram attacks, including suicide bombings and village assaults that have left hundreds dead, have increased in recent weeks.
“In just over a week, suicide bombers have killed at least 47 people in attacks at crowded places, including a market and a popular bar, in towns in both Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon,” notes Al Jazeera.
Last year, the terrorist group declared an Islamic caliphate in large swathes of Nigeria.
“It is feared Boko Haram is turning its captives into weapons,” reports AP.
In April 2014, the Nigeria-based jihadist group drew the condemnation of the international community when it kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. About 219 of them are still missing.
Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) terrorist group.
“News of the [recent] rescue operation come as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s new government appointed a general to lead a new multinational task force to fight Boko Haram,” reports Al Jazeera.
The five-nation coalition is expected to be commanded by Maj. Gen. Iliya Abbah, who previously led military operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, a Nigeria military spokesman, reportedly said.
Al Jazeera notes that “the Multi-National Joint Task Force, made up of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin, is expected to be more effective than a current alliance in the battle to end Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency, which has claimed some 15,000 lives.”