Just days after Boko Haram fighters lost Sambisa Forest to Nigerian troops, the Nigerian Army yesterday revealed that it arrested a total of 1,240 suspected Boko Haram suspects during mop-up operations.
The army also recovered the Qur’an and flag belonging to the leader of the insurgent group, Abubakar Shekau, which was abandoned in the forest.
Similarly, 31 of the fleeing insurgents have surrendered to authorities in neighbouring Niger Republic in the aftermath of the reclamation of the expansive forest by security forces.
LEADERSHIP reports that Sambisa Forest in Nigeria’s North East was the operational headquarters of the Islamist sect.
The Nigerian Army said that it could not arrest all the Boko Haram terrorists during ‘Operation Rescue Finale’ “because some of them used women and children as human shields to escape from Sambisa during its invasion and recovery of the Forest from the terrorists.”
The theatre commander, ‘Operation Lafiya Dole,’ Maj Gen Lucky Irabor who disclosed this yesterday at the Theatre Command Headquarters, Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, Borno State, at a press conference, also said that apart from the 1,240 that were arrested during the operation, others were crushed.
He added that the sect’s flag (with Arabic inscription) and a Qur’an reportedly belonging to Shekau were recovered by soldiers.
A breakdown of the arrested suspects as given by the theatre commander showed that they comprised 413 men, 323 women, 251 male children, and 253 female children.
Gen Irabor added that 30 terrorists, comprising 24 men and six women, surrendered to troops of Niger Republic.
The theatre commander, however, explained that the counter-insurgency operation was still ongoing in Sambisa Forest and other parts of the North East in order to ensure the total wipe-out of the remnants of the insurgent group from the entire North East and, by extension, the sub region.
Irabor called on members of the public to be wary of Boko Haram fighters trying to hide away in their localities, adding that credible information should be sent to security agencies towards tracking them down.
He commended the efforts of the media and all the stakeholders in the fight against insurgency in the region and country in general, just as he disclosed that plans had already reached an advanced stage for the construction of roads in the Sambisa Forest in order to turn it into an assembling and training ground for the military.
According to the theatre commander, the military now expects other security agencies to take over the liberated areas and even Sambisa Forest so that residents can return to their various communities.
Meanwhile, the Niger interior minister yesterday revealed that dozens of Boko Haram fighters gave themselves up to authorities in southern Niger, according to Reuters.
Minister Mohamed Bazoum said that 31 young people from Diffa, who were enrolled a few years ago in Boko Haram, decided to surrender.
According to him, the fighters arrived in the remote desert town of Diffa in groups and are being held by local authorities.
A former Boko Haram combatant told journalists that he was encouraged to surrender to Nigerien authorities in order to get a soft-landing.
“I learned that the first (Boko Haram fighters) who surrendered were not arrested, and I surrendered. We expect a pardon from the government so that we can participate in the development of the country and help us get rid of the trauma,’’ he said.