Nigeria’s military says it has rescued at least 160 more women and children who had been abducted by Boko Haram and were being held in the Sambisa Forest, considered to be the armed group’s last stronghold.
Colonel Sani Usman, an army spokesperson, said in a statement on Thursday that those rescued include around “60 women of various ages and around 100 children”.
“They have been evacuated to a safety zone for further processing,” Usman said.
At least one woman and one soldier were reportedly killed in the fighting during the rescue. Eight other women and four soldiers were also injured.
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said that the reports from the army could not be independently verified because of restricted access to the area.
However, she added that the military promised to release more evidence of the rescues, including photographs, later on Thursday.
All the former hostages – some of whom are said to be traumatised by the experience – were being screened to determine their identities and from where and when they were abducted.
Their release comes a day after the Nigerian military rescued nearly 300 hostages – 200 girls and 93 women – in Boko Haram’s forest stronghold.
Usman said that the girls who were seized from the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014 were not part of the group. The fighters are believed to have taken the schoolgirls in trucks into the Sambisa Forest. Dozens escaped, but 219 remain missing.
Boko Haram has abducted an unknown number of girls, women and young men to be used as sex slaves and fighters. Many have escaped or been released as Boko Haram fighters have fled a multinational offensive that began at the end of January.
A month ago, the Nigerian military began pounding the Sambisa Forest in air raids, an assault they said earlier they had been avoiding for fear of killing the Chibok schoolgirls, or inciting their captors to kill them.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Earlier this month, rights group Amnesty International published a report saying that the armed group has abducted at least 2,000 women and girls since the start of 2014.
Amnesty’s Africa director for research and advocacy, Netsanet Belay, said the rescues were a “cause for celebration” but he warned: “This is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are thousands more women and girls, and men and boys, who have been abducted by Boko Haram,” he said in a statement.