Former Boko Haram captives accused of aiding extremists

Fears that some of the 275 women and girls rescued from Boko Haram in April may still be in contact with their former captors apparently led the Nigerian military to take them into custody.

Rescued women, children held in military custody for fears of collaboration with Boko Haram

An unidentified child and others rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest rest at a refugee camp on May 4, 2015. Fears that some of the 275 women and girls rescued may still be in contact with their former captors apparently have led the Nigerian military to put them into custody again. (Sunday Alamba/AP)

The accusations against a woman who was rescued from Boko Haram abductors came from fellow former captives during a group counselling session.

Why had she received preferential treatment and better food while they were held? Wasn't she married to a fighter from the Islamic extremist group?

As scores of young Nigerian women and children are rescued from the clutches of Boko Haram, they face suspicions that they may still be in contact with their former captors.

These fears apparently have led to an entire group of 275 women and girls rescued from the extremists last month being forced to remain in custody — held this time by the Nigerian military.

​​The Defence Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, claimed Thursday that they were moved to get "proper medical attention and psycho-social therapy" under a program organized by the national security adviser. Olukolade was quoted by PR Nigeria, an agency that puts out Nigerian government news.

One of the trauma counsellors who had been working with the women said the group had nearly completed their therapy and camp officials had been preparing to reunite some with their families, before the military took them.

Harsh captivity

After creating havoc in northeastern Nigeria for years, Boko Haram militants have suffered a series of defeats this year from an offensive by better-equipped Nigerian troops bolstered by forces from neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

As the militants retreat, the many captives they seized are being rescued, but that doesn't mean their ordeal is over. Many remain traumatized by their harsh captivity — including rape, sexual slavery and beatings — as well as suspicions that some cooperated with their captors and may still support them.

In counselling sessions at the Malkohi Camp outside the northeastern city of Yola, witnesses described some women accusing another one of having ties to their former Boko Haram captors.

Relations between soldiers guarding the camp and some of the rescued women had been tense after a fracas witnessed May 17 by a reporter in which a soldier falsely claimed that one of the women tried to grab his gun and told him she was a Boko Haram member.

On Tuesday, soldiers took the group of more than 200 children — almost all younger than 5 — and 67 girls and women from the camp, the National Emergency Management Agency has confirmed.

Agency spokesman Sani Datti said he had no other information because it was an "entirely military affair."

The group was put on a military plane and flown to an unknown destination, possibly the capital of Abuja, a camp official and a military intelligence officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the issue.

Their move from the camp only became known after an AP story about the heroism of one teenager, Binta Ibrahim, prompted two readers to send $500 to her. An AP reporter who went to the camp to find out how to get the money to her discovered the group was no longer there.

'The Chibok girls' remain missing

It is not known how many girls, women and children have been kidnapped by Boko Haram over the years. Many have escaped and Nigerian troops reported freeing some 700 last month since the multinational offensive chased the militants from towns in the northeast. Some of the girls and women were used by the militants as suicide bombers, sending them into crowded markets and bus stations.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, expressed alarm Thursday at the scale of the humanitarian needs and "the horrific mental and physical scars" that the violence by Boko Haram has left on the people of northeast Nigeria.

"Whole communities have fled their villages and endured unimaginable suffering. Traumatized people, without homes, belongings, income and education for their children — what does the future hold for them?" Maurer said, adding that the needs were far beyond the capacity of his Geneva-based organization and demand serious international attention.

Boko Haram abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014. Dozens escaped, but 219 remain missing. The plight of the schoolgirls, who have become known as "the Chibok girls," sparked international outrage.

A counsellor who worked with the rescued group at Malkohi said they told him that Christians among the captives had been forced by Boko Haram to convert to Islam, and some were forced to marry fighters. At least 18 are pregnant.

One 22-year-old told him she was paid a dowry of 500 naira — about $3 Cdn — to marry an insurgent.

Others said they were treated like "slaves," forced to do domestic work and whipped if they disobeyed. One showed the counsellor her back, covered with scars.

But the counsellor said the only person who had openly supported Boko Haram was a 4-year-old boy whose mother and father belonged to the group. He said he feared for the boy's life and had had officials remove him from the camp.

The child openly boasted that his father would slit people's throats and gun them down, saying that the killing of infidels was the work of God, according to the counsellor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters about the sensitive subject.

He said the entire group was traumatized and all the rescued children were badly malnourished. A 2-year-old died May 3, the day after the group reached the safety of the camp, he added.

U.S. ambassador praises heroic girl

Their rescue was a success story for Nigeria's military.

When they came to the camp, those rescued told AP heartbreaking stories of their captivity and the trauma of their rescue. Boko Haram fighters stoned several women to death when they refused to flee with them as the military advanced on their position. Others were crushed accidentally by an armoured military vehicle, and three women were killed by a land mine.

Binta Ibrahim rescued three children aged between 2 and 4 and cared for them during a year of captivity under Boko Haram. All 275 women, girls and children rescued from Boko Haram were taken into military custody amid suspicions that some are aiding the Islamic extremists. (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)

Binta Ibrahim, who was praised for her heroism, told how at the age of 16 she rescued three children between the ages of 2 and 4, cared for them during a year of captivity under Boko Haram, and brought them to the safety of the refugee camp.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was so moved by Ibrahim's story that she cited her during a commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania this week.

"Binta is a Muslim. The three kids she saved are Christian. Tell me a more powerful rejection of Boko Haram's perversion of Islam than Binta's love for those kids," Power said.

Now, the fate of Ibrahim and others rescued is uncertain.

The Nigerian military and intelligence services have faced criticism over their treatment of the thousands of suspected Boko Haram members or supporters that they have detained over the nearly 6-year-old insurgency.

More than 3,000 male detainees died during a period of a few months at Giwa Barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in 2013, according to an AP investigation. Amnesty International said some starved to death, some suffocated in overcrowded conditions, and some were simply taken out and shot.


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