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Hundreds of Hostages Rescued from Boko Haram Extremists in Nigeria

The Nigerian army has freed hundreds of hostages, mostly children and women, who were held captive for months or years by Boko Haram extremists in northeastern Nigeria. The 350 hostages, including 209 children, 135 women, and six men, were rescued from the Sambisa Forest, a hideout for the extremist group.

“The 350 hostages had been held in the Sambisa Forest, a hideout for the extremist group which launched an insurgency in 2009,” said Maj. Gen. Ken Chigbu, a senior Nigerian army officer, while presenting them to authorities in Borno, where the forest is.

The hostages appeared exhausted and worn out, with some of the girls having babies believed to have been born from forced marriages. One of the hostages, Hajara Umara, who was rescued along with her children, spoke of the difficulties of escaping: “I always wanted to escape but couldn’t because of the children. If they caught you trying to escape, they would torture you and imprison you indefinitely.”

The army said the hostages were rescued during a days-long military operation in Sambisa Forest, which was once a bustling forest reserve but now serves as an enclave for Boko Haram and its breakaway factions. The freed hostages were transported to the Borno state government house, where authorities will care for them until they can return home.

“I always wanted to escape but couldn’t because of the children,” said Hajara Umara, who was rescued together with her children. “If they caught you trying to escape, they would torture you and imprison you indefinitely.”

Some extremists were killed during the rescue operation, and their makeshift houses were destroyed, the army said.

Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown jihadi rebels, launched its insurgency in 2009 to establish Islamic Shariah law in the country. At least 35,000 people have been killed and 2.1 million people displaced as a result of the extremist violence, according to U.N. agencies in Nigeria. At least 1,400 students have been taken from Nigerian schools since the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants in the village of Chibok in Borno state shocked the world.

In recent years, abductions have been concentrated in the country’s conflict-battered northwestern and central regions, where dozens of armed groups often target villagers and travelers for ransom.

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