Over 700 people abducted by the African Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram have successfully escaped captivity in Northeastern Nigeria, the country’s military has announced.
In a statement on their Facebook page, the Nigerian army’s Deputy Director of Public Relations, Col. Timothy Antigha, said that “over 700 farmers, fishermen and members of their families” had escaped captivity and were currently under military supervision at a holding facility in the northeastern town of Monguno.
The spokesperson claimed a recent armed forces operation that had weakened the Islamic State affiliate aided their escape.
“[The operation] was targeted destroying Boko Haram infrastructure and logistics; such as communication centers, fabrication yards, bomb-making equipment, vehicles and other means of sustenance,” he said. “The ensuing collapse of their command structure and means of survival have therefore triggered the abandonment of the islands and escape of the abductees.”
Antigha said the soldiers had profiled all the escapees to ensure there were no militants hiding among the group and that two women had given birth at the holding facility.
The claim, which has not been independently verified, follows a New Year address by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari in which he claimed to have “beaten” Boko Haram.
“We have since beaten Boko Haram,” Buhari said. “Isolated attacks still occur, but even the best-policed countries cannot prevent determined criminals from committing terrible acts of terror as we have seen during the past years in Europe, Asia, Middle East, elsewhere in Africa and in America.”
Buhari has previously make deceptive statements about the strength of Boko Haram. In December 2015, he told the BBC that his military had “technically won the war” against the terrorist organization, adding that the group could no longer carry out “conventional attacks” against civilians or security forces.
However, numerous violent resurgences have since taken place across Nigeria in the past two years, claiming the lives of hundreds of people. As recently as late November, Buhari insisted that Boko Haram’s effectiveness had been “massively degraded” and that any subsequent terror attacks were “the last kicks of a dying horse.”
Despite his claims of victory, Buhari recently demanded $1 billion in surplus oil revenue to continue the military’s counterinsurgencies, although critics fear the money will mainly be used to fund corruption.
Since their resurgence in 2010, the Islamist group has killed over 20,000 people and displaced around 2.6 million from their homes. Statistics published by UNICEF last week also revealed the group had used at least 135 children to conduct suicide bombings in West Africa in 2017, a five-fold increase from the previous year.