Nigeria’s military on Tuesday claimed to have rescued 200 girls and 93 women from a notorious Boko Haram stronghold, but said that there was no confirmation the hostages were those kidnapped from Chibok one year ago.
“Troops have this afternoon captured and destroyed three camps of terrorists inside the Sambisa Forest and rescued 200 girls and 93 women,” said Chris Olukolade, a defense spokesperson. He is referring to an area in Borno, a state in northeast Nigeria. Olukolade said it is not confirmed if the women and girls are the Chibok hostages, adding that they are currently being “screened and profiled.”
Boko Haram claimed the abduction of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, also in Borno, in April of last year. Fifty-seven girls escaped within hours of the attack, but 219 remained in captivity. In the weeks following the mass abduction, Nigerian security forces and locals in Borno reportedly said there were indications that the girls had been taken to the Sambisa Forest. Nigerian defense officials and some experts agreed that they were likely separated over the last 13 months, thereby casting significant doubt on the possibility that they were being held together as a group.
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has vowed to “marry them off” or sell them as slaves. The Islamic terrorist group has also been blamed for hundreds of other kidnappings, especially targeting women and girls across Nigeria. Amnesty International estimates that Boko Haram has kidnapped as many as 2,000 women and girls since the beginning of 2014.
The Chibok attack last year brought unprecedented worldwide attention to Nigeria’s Islamist uprising and also sparked sharp criticism of the government’s initial response. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was accused of indifference and of trying to downplay the size of the kidnapping.
Celebrities and prominent personalities including First Lady Michelle Obama joined a Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls that attracted supporters worldwide.