Nigerian military releases photos of freed women and girls
The women and girls sit huddled on one side of a large compound, covered in long flowing gowns, small children huddled close, as two soldiers stand by.
A small, painfully thin boy, his ribs jutting through his skin, touches a wooden pole. A woman in a dark hijab holds a baby close. Nearby, a girl holds an infant.
The women and girls rescued from Boko Haram militants this week in raids by the Nigerian military look uncertain and anxious in photographs released by authorities and published Friday by local media.
In one photo, two soldiers -- one holding an automatic rifle, the other wearing a mask and blue rubber gloves -- are shown interviewing women. In others, women stare at the camera. The photos were reportedly taken by a member of the Nigerian military.
The military rescued 293 women and girls Tuesday and have since rescued another 150. The women are being interviewed to determine their identities and hometowns. However, military officials have dampened hopes that 219 missing schoolgirls who were kidnapped from the town of Chibok last year have been found, saying only that it’s possible that a few of them could be among the group.
Officials who saw the rescued girls and women said some of them were pregnant, the Associated Press reported.
Nigeria’s military has driven the Islamist militants out of dozens of towns and villages in recent months and has invaded the group’s last stronghold in the Sambisa Forest, attacking several Boko Haram bases where the women and children were rescued.
While the photos show women, girls and very small boys, they show none of the missing older boys. Boko Haram has a record of killing teenage boys and men and kidnapping boys as young as 10 to serve as child soldiers, according to the accounts of people in villages that the group occupied before its retreat.
Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday repeated a pledge to clear the Sambisa Forest of Boko Haram bases before he relinquishes power at the end of the month.
He said the military had scored major successes in driving the militants out of the large areas it controlled until recently in three northern states.
Jonathan said he was determined to rid the country of terrorist strongholds before he hands over power to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari.
The military said the priority was to move the group of rescued women and children to a safe location.
“At the moment, what is uppermost and of priority is their movement to a conducive place where they are now undergoing thorough profiling to verify their true identity, where they come from, how they found themselves in the forest, etc.,” the military said in a statement Thursday.
“Additional numbers of persons are still being recovered from the forest,” the statement added. “Until such comprehensive profiling is done, nobody can confirm whether they are among the Chibok girls or not.”
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