Nigerian army rescues 200 girls from Boko Haram

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s military says it has rescued 200 girls and 93 women from Boko Haram in the northeastern Sambisa Forest but they do not include any of the schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago from Chibok.

The army announced the rescue on Twitter Tuesday and said it is now screening and profiling the girls and women.

Army spokesman Col. Sani Usman told The Associated Press that troops destroyed and cleared four militant camps and rescued 200 abducted girls and 93 women “but they are not the Chibok girls.”

Nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in April 2014. The militants took the schoolgirls in trucks into the Sambisa Forest. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing.

The plight of the schoolgirls, who have become known as “the Chibok girls,” has garnered international attention and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Their kidnapping brought Boko Haram to the attention of the world, arousing outrage and even U.S. first lady Michelle Obama got engaged, tweeting a photograph of herself with the campaign sign.

The Nigerian army announced two weeks ago that it would go into Sambisa Forest, which is a center for the Boko Haram fighters, and that it believed the schoolgirls might still be there.

Boko Haram has kidnapped an unknown number of girls, women, and young men to be used as sex slaves and fighters. Many have escaped or been released as a multinational offensive mounted at the end of January has driven Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic militants from almost all towns of the northeast. The only area left in control of Boko Haram was the Sambisa Forest, a national game reserve.

Meanwhile, hundreds of skeletons of children, women, and men believed killed by Boko Haram have been found in a recaptured Nigerian border town, indicating another atrocity by the Islamic extremists, witnesses say.

A local government committee that entered northeastern Nigerian town of Damasak through neighboring Niger said it also found decomposing bodies of men presumed to be Boko Haram fighters killed when troops from Chad and Niger recaptured the town in March.

“I know that there was a large-scale atrocity, but I cannot tell you the precise number of dead bodies,” Senator-elect Abubakar Kyari on Monday told reporters in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital 110 miles southeast of Damasak, which borders Niger.

The officials visited Damasak on Saturday and found the town littered with bodies, said Babagana Mustapha, spokesman for the Mobbar local government.

Hundreds more bodies of insurgents are rotting in the surrounding bush, according to Chadian troops who escorted the officials through the town.

There have been reports of Boko Haram killing hundreds of civilians as they fled other Nigerian towns, driven out by a Chadian-led multinational offensive that began at the end of January.

Meanwhile, police in north-central Kogi state blamed Boko Haram for an explosion at Ta'o FM Radio station that killed three security guards and a fourth unidentified person on Monday night.

The multinational force has pushed Boko Haram out of all areas of northeastern Nigeria, except for the Sambisa Forest, said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade.

The forest is where Boko Haram took more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls a year ago. The forest has been pounded by air raids for weeks and ground troops reportedly entered it last week. Olukolade on Tuesday denied reports that the troops retreated from Sambisa because of land mines.

Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising is blamed for the deaths of as many as 10,000 people last year and some 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes.