Boko Haram freed Nigerian women tell of captivity horror

  • 4 May 2015
  • From the section Africa
Media captionLami Musa says she was rescued just before she would have been married to a Boko Haram commander

Former hostages held by Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria say some fellow captives were stoned to death as the army approached to rescue them.

The women said Boko Haram fighters started pelting them when they refused to run away as the army came nearer.

A group of nearly 300 women and children was brought out of the vast Sambisa forest to a government camp.

The military says it has rescued more than 700 people in the past week in an offensive against the Islamist group.

The women said several were killed in the stoning, but they did not know how many.

Media captionThe BBC's Will Ross: "There are emotional scenes as a family reunion has taken place"

'Pregnant'

Others were killed inadvertently by the military during the rescue operation, they added.

Soldiers did not realise "in time that we were not the enemies" and some women and children were "run over by their trucks", said survivor Asama Umoru.

Image caption Salamatu Bulama says she was among the among the women stoned by the militants
Image caption The military says many Boko Haram bases in the Sambisa forest have been destroyed

The survivors said that when they were initially captured, the militants had killed men and older boys in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest.

Some were forced into marriage.

One woman, Lami Musa, 27, said she had avoided that fate.

"When they realised I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel [her husband] and they killed him," she said.

'Skeletal bodies'

Ms Musa quoted the militants as telling her that "once you deliver in a week's time we will marry you to our commander".

"I delivered at night and we were rescued by the soldiers the following morning," Ms Musa added, in tears.

Image caption Some of the children are severely malnourished
Image caption Many are now eating their first proper meal for months

Other survivors said the militant Islamists never let them out of their sight - not even when they went to the toilet.

"They didn't allow us to move an inch," one of the freed women, Asabe Umaru, told Reuters news agency. "We were kept in one place. We were under bondage."

One woman described how they were fed just one meal a day.

"We were fed only ground dry maize in the afternoons. It was not good for human consumption," Cecilia Abel told Reuters.

"Every day, we witnessed the death of one of us and waited for our turn," said Umaru, a 24-year-old mother of two.

Some of the children were "just little skeletal bodies with flaps of skin that make them look like old people", Associated Press reporter Michelle Faul told the BBC after visiting the camp where survivors were staying.

A doctor, Muhammad Amin Suleiman, said many severely malnourished babies and children had been put on intravenous drips at a clinic.

The women and children travelled for three days on pick-up trucks from the vast Sambisa forest where they were rescued, to the camp in the city of Yola, where they arrived on Saturday night.

Chibok girls

Through interviews, officials have determined that almost all those rescued are from Gumsuri, a village near the town of Chibok, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Image caption Women have also been receiving check-ups at a clinic

It does not appear that any of those released are from the group of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram a year ago in a mass abduction that led to worldwide protests calling for the girls' release.

Thousands have been killed in northern Nigeria since Boko Haram began its insurgency in 2009 to create an Islamic state.

In February, Nigeria's military, backed by troops from neighbouring countries, launched a major offensive against the Islamist fighters, recapturing most of the territory Boko Haram had taken in the previous year.

Their last remaining hideouts are believed to be in the Sambisa forest, which surrounds a reserve of the same name.