How many hostages does Boko Haram still have?

Terrorism | Analysts skeptical about claims Nigerian army has freed thousands more captives
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/28/16, 10:22 am

ABUJA, Nigeria—The Nigerian army on Sunday said it rescued more than 5,000 Boko Haram hostages and killed 10 fighters in a series of weekend operations across Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. But the lack of detail in the report has some security analysts questioning its accuracy.

According to the official announcement, the troops and the civilian joint task force raided four villages, where they killed six Boko Haram fighters and rescued more than 5,000 hostages. Another batch of security forces working with civilian and police forces cleared Boko Haram fighters from 11 villages in the Mafa Local Government Area of Borno state, where they killed two fighters. Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman, the army’s public relations officer, said two of its fighters died in the clash.

“The body of the heroic civilian and the wounded soldier have since been evacuated to Maiduguri,” Usman said.

Another patrol team and some vigilante fighters in Borno’s Zalidava-Weige region killed two Boko Haram fighters and recovered some weaponry, Usman added.

Martin Ewi, an expert on Boko Haram with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the hostages are usually transferred to displacement camps once they are rescued. After they’ve been identified and interviewed, they can finally go home, he said.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed 20,000 people and displaced some 2 million others in Nigeria and neighboring countries. The Nigerian army and other joint forces have cracked down on the Islamic terror group during the past year, seizing back a swath of its territory and freeing hundreds of hostages. Earlier this month, the army reported joint forces rescued more than 197 hostages in a raid on Boko Haram territory in the Bama local government of Borno state.

But many of the reports remain unconfirmed and often contain little or no details. In the latest rescue, Ewi said the captured Boko Harm fighters do not match up with the number of reported rescued hostages.

“I believe they did free a lot of hostages, but if there were 5,000, I’m not sure,” he said. “They were only able to kill 10 militants. Does that mean only 10 were guarding all the hostages?”

Kyari Mohammed, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at the Modibbo Adam University of Technology in Yola, Adamawa state, said it’s almost impossible for the region to have that many people after past years of insurgent control. Mohammed said previous reports on the area from refugees in camps in Niger and Cameroon who fled the area contradict the army’s report.

“I’m very doubtful of the number,” Mohammed said. “These are areas that have been cut off from the rest of the country. We’re talking of an almost arid region.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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