Freed Nigerian women tell of horror of Boko Haram captivity

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Nigeria Rescues More Boko Haram Hostages


(Reuters) - Boko Haram fighters killed older boys and men in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest where many died of hunger and disease, freed captives said on Sunday after they were brought to a government refugee camp.

The Nigerian army rescued hundreds of women and children last week from the Islamist fighters in northern Nigeria's Sambisa Forest in a major operation that has turned international attention to the plight of hostages.

After days on the road in pickup trucks, hundreds were released on Sunday into the care of authorities at a refugee camp in the eastern town of Yola, to be fed and treated for injuries. They spoke to reporters for the first time.

"They didn't allow us to move an inch," said one of the freed women, Asabe Umaru, describing her captivity. "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.

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Freed Nigerian women tell of horror of Boko Haram captivity
Children rescued by Nigeria soldiers from captivity from Islamist extremists at Sambisa forest arrive at a camp in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday May. 2, 2015. The first group of nearly 300 Nigerian girls and women released from captivity by Boko Haram were brought by the military to the safety of a refugee camp in the country's northeast Saturday evening. More than 677 females have been released this week according to official reports, as the Nigerian military continues its campaign to push the Islamic extremists out of their last remaining strongholds in the Sambisa Forest. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigeria soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa forest arrive at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Saturday, May. 2, 2015. More than 677 girls and women have been released this week, as the Nigerian military continues its campaign to push the Islamic extremists out their last remaining strongholds in the Sambisa Forest. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest arrive at a refugee camp by a truck in Yola, Nigeria Saturday, May 2, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued from the Islamic extremists, the first to arrive at the refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. The Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
A doctor attends to a malnourished child at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Sunday, May 3, 2015, after being rescued from captivity by Boko Haram fighters. Their faces were gaunt with signs of malnutrition but the girls are alive and free, among a group of 275 children and women rescued by the Nigerian military, and the first to arrive at a refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. They came from the Sambisa Forest, thought to be the last stronghold of the Islamic extremists, where the Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Fulani Women balance their wares on their head as they walk on the dirt road past a camp were women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest have taken refuge in Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Salamatu Bulama, a lady who claims that Islamist exremists stoned her and others before she was rescued by Nigerian soldiers, as she talks to the media sitting in a clinic at a camp in Yola, Nigeria Sunday, May 3, 2015. Boko Haram fighters stoned some of their captives to death as Nigeria's military approached to rescue the women, some survivors told The Associated Press on Sunday, as some of the released women captives told tragic stories about their time in captivity, for some after more than a year in the hands of Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremists. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest wait for treatment at at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children who were rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest register their names upon their arrival at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday May 2, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued from the Islamic extremists, the first to arrive at the refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Lami Musa, 27-year-old who says her husband was killed before she was abducted by Islamist extremists, cradles her 5-day-old baby girl at a refugee camp clinic after she and others were rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Sambisa Forest, Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom. Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on Sunday, their first day out of the war zone. "We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived," said 27-year-old Lami Musa. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Some parents of kidnapped girls from the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, attend a protest in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, as some 219 girls remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown," Buhari said in a statement. "As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them." (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Some parents of kidnapped girls from the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, attend a protest in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, as some 219 girls remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown," Buhari said in a statement. "As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them." (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Young girls known as Chibok Ambassadors, demonstrate in support of the girls kidnapped from the government secondary school in Chibok, a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Never to be forgotten. The new slogan adopted Tuesday is a sad concession that many believe few of the Chibok girls kidnapped one year ago by Islamic extremists will ever find their way home. On the first anniversary of the day 276 schoolgirls were snatched in the middle of the night as they prepared to write science exams at their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said he cannot promise to find the 219 who are still missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
People march during a silent protest calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, who were abducted a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April 13, 2015. Nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok were abducted in a mass kidnapping on the night of April 14-15. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Protesters holds up placards demanding help from the Nigerian government to find the some 219 girls who remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists, during a demonstration outside the Nigerian High Commission in London, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. April 14th marks the one year anniversary of the abduction from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, but Nigeria's President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown." (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
People march on a street during a silent protest calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April 13, 2015. Nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok were abducted in a mass kidnapping on the night of April 14-15. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, people demonstrate calling on the Nigerian government to rescue girls taken from a secondary school in Chibok region, in the city of Abuja, Nigeria . Days after Nigeria's military raised hopes by announcing Islamic extremists have agreed to a cease-fire, Boko Haram is still fighting and there is no word about 219 schoolgirls held hostage for six months. Officials had said talks with Nigeria's Islamic extremist rebels would resume in neighboring Chad this week, but there was no confirmation that negotiations had resumed by Wednesday. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga File)
Young girls known as Chibok Ambassadors, carry placards bearing the names of the girls kidnapped from the government secondary school in Chibok, a year ago, during a demonstration, in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Never to be forgotten. The new slogan adopted Tuesday is a sad concession that many believe few of the Chibok girls kidnapped one year ago by Islamic extremists will ever find their way home. On the first anniversary of the day 276 schoolgirls were snatched in the middle of the night as they prepared to write science exams at their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said he cannot promise to find the 219 who are still missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, soldiers escort Hassan Usman, a forced laborer for Boko Haram who had his hand amputated by the Islamic extremists for allegedly stealing fuel in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian soldiers stand guard in front of the burned out palace of the Emir of Gwoza, in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian Soldiers man a check point in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian soldiers man a check point in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, a Woman cries as she learns that her relatives were killed by Boko Haram in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls carry placards on April 14, 2015 to protest the delay in rescuing their daughters as they gather to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls gather on April 14, 2015 to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls gather on April 14, 2015 to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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Two hundred and seventy-five women and children, some with heads or limbs in bandages, arrived in the camp late on Saturday.

Nearly 700 kidnap victims have been freed from the Islamist group's forest stronghold since Tuesday, with the latest group of 234 women and children liberated on Friday.

"When we saw the soldiers we raised our hands and shouted for help. Boko Haram who were guarding us started stoning us so we would follow them to another hideout, but we refused because we were sure the soldiers would rescue us," Umaru, a 24 year-old mother of two, told Reuters.

The prisoners suffered malnutrition and disease, she said. "Every day we witnessed the death of one of us and waited for our turn."

Another freed captive, Cecilia Abel, said her husband and first son had been killed in her presence before the militia forced her and her remaining eight children into the forest.

For two weeks before the military arrived she had barely eaten.

"We were fed only ground dry maize in the afternoons. It was not good for human consumption," she said. "Many of us that were captured died in Sambisa Forest. Even after our rescue about 10 died on our way to this place."

SPECIAL ATTENTION

The freed prisoners were fed bread and mugs of tea as soon as they arrived at the government camp. Nineteen were in hospital for special attention, Dr. Mohammed Aminu Suleiman of the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency told Reuters.

The army said troops on patrol on Saturday had discovered 260 women and children in Adamawa state. Some had fled their homes during fighting while others had been abducted but managed to escape from the Islamists.

The military also said in a statement it had arrested a supplier of food and fuel to Boko Haram on Sunday morning.

Amnesty International estimates the insurgents, who are intent on bringing western Africa under Islamist rule, have taken more than 2,000 women and girls captive since the start of 2014. Many have been used as cooks, sex slaves or human shields.

The prisoners freed so far do not appear to include any of more than 200 schoolgirls snatched from school dormitories in Chibok town a year ago, an incident that drew global attention to the six-year-old insurgency.

Umaru said her group of prisoners never came in contact with the missing Chibok girls.

Nigerian troops alongside armies from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger have won back swathes of territory from the fighters in the last couple of months.

Last year, the group exerted influence over an area bigger than Belgium. But a counter-attack launched in January has pushed them into Sambisa, a nature reserve. While the Nigerian army is confident it has the group cornered, a final push to clear them from the area has been curtailed by landmines.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who relinquishes power later in May after his election defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, has promised to hand over a Nigeria "free of terrorist strongholds".

Rampant corruption and a failure to stamp out the uprising in the north were factors that cost Jonathan the election won by Buhari, a former military ruler.
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