At least two dozen hostages seized in Cameroon over the weekend by militants of Boko Haram have been rescued, the nation's military said Monday, as the conflict in neighboring Nigeria again threatened to spill across the region.
Boko Haram released a video this month threatening Cameroon and has stepped up attacks across the border, including the abduction Sunday of dozens of Cameroonians.
Reports on the number of people kidnapped in the West African nation varied between about 60 and 80. About 30 herders and 50 children ages 10 to 15 were taken, Reuters news service said, citing a military official. The militia burned down about 80 houses, Cameroonian officials said.
Cameroon’s military claimed Monday that it had driven the attackers back toward Nigeria and freed some of the captives.
"The Cameroon army was able to free about 24 hostages taken yesterday by Boko Haram in the far north,” Cameroon’s military spokesman, Col. Didier Badjeck, told Reuters, though other reports suggested that 30 people had been rescued. “They were freed as defense forces pursued the attackers who were heading back to Nigeria.”
Boko Haram fighters are concentrated in densely forested hills in northeastern Nigeria along the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In recent months the militants have seized control of dozens of villages in northeast Nigeria, shooting people on sight, kidnapping women and children. Captive boys have been forced to join the group as child soldiers.
Last year, Boko Haram gained notoriety with its abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls. Most of the girls have not been recovered, although a few escaped.
A grainy Boko Haram video released this month on YouTube showed the fighters and one of their leaders telling Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, to abandon democracy and the country’s constitution because it was un-Islamic. It hasn’t been confirmed whether the figure speaking was the group's top leader, Abubakar Shekau.
“The only language of peace is to repent and follow God, but if you do not then we will communicate it to you through the language of violence,” the figure said.
The weekend assault was not the first time the group has attacked Cameroon. Last month Boko Haram fighters launched attacks on about five border villages. Cameroon’s military fought back, claiming to have killed 41 militants in fierce fighting that lasted around five hours.
Boko Haram, which aims to create an Islamic state, has changed tactics in the last year, from guerrilla-style attacks and suicide bombings to the seizure of territory. It has also continued to carry out suicide bombings, lately using girls with explosives strapped to their bodies.
Chad, part of a regional force battling Boko Haram, has sent 2,000 soldiers to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram, along with attack helicopters and armored vehicles.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in Nigeria, with one estimate putting the dead at more than 16,000 since 2011.
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