Women captives shot dead soldiers sent to rescue them
Women taken hostage by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria shot dead soldiers who tried to rescue them from a remote mountain hideout, it emerged yesterday.
The women, who had apparently been forced by the terrorist sect to act as conscripts, shot at the unsuspecting troops when they arrived at the remote village of Nbita in north-east Nigeria last week.
Seven soldiers were killed in the gunfight, in which a dozen of the women also died, according to officials.
The captives were among nearly 700 women and girls who have been rescued from Boko Haram hideouts in the vast Sambisa forest area in recent days. Yesterday, they were being looked after at a refugee camp in the eastern city of Yola, where many were showing signs of severe trauma and exhaustion. A number of the children also had distended stomachs and tinted orange hair - two signs of malnutrition.
Nigerian officials said that Boko Haram had captured thousands of women and girls in recent years, using them as cooks, sex slaves and human shields at their camps in remote bush areas.
Many are believed to have been abducted during raids on villages in which hundreds of men were killed.
"Boko Haram killed the father of this child," sobbed Lami Musa, a mother of four who was cradling a four-day-old girl at one refugee camp. "I have no idea where my other children are."
"They didn't allow us to move an inch," said one of the freed women, Asabe Umaru, describing her captivity in the forest. "If you needed the toilet, they followed you. We were kept in one place. We were under bondage.
"We thank God to be alive today. We thank the Nigerian army for saving our lives," she added.
Many of the hostages were in such a distressed state when they were found that they had no idea whether their rescuers meant them harm or not.
But they were the lucky ones. Boko Haram fighters stoned some of their captives to death as Nigeria's military approached.
Several women died when they were crushed mistakenly by a Nigerian military armoured car. Three were blown up by a landmine as they were walking to freedom.
Nigerian officials were trying to determine where the women and children are from.
It did not appear that any of those released were among the group of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from the town of Chibok a year ago, whose abduction first put Boko Haram in the international spotlight.
"Based on registration we have carried out so far, none of them is from Chibok," said Zakari Abubakar, an official with the National Emergency Management Agency, which has been looking after the hostages.
Ms Musa's four-day-old baby was born the day before her group set off from the Sambisa forest area for a refugee camp in Yola, crammed on to the backs of rickety, open pick-up trucks.
On the trip's first day, one military vehicle escorting the group exploded a landmine, wounding two soldiers, according to a soldier travelling with them.
Boko Haram has been on the back foot militarily in recent months, having previously controlled an area of north-east Nigeria almost the size of Belgium.
The tide has turned in the past nine weeks, with the arrival of government armoury, including helicopter gunships, and coalition troops from neighbouring countries.
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's outgoing president, insisted last week that he would "hand over a Nigeria completely free of terrorist strongholds" when he cedes power on May 29. (© Daily Telegraph, London)