One of the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants in an infamous mass kidnapping in northeast Nigeria has been rescued, an army spokesman and a vigilante leader said on Wednesday.
The schoolgirl is the first to be rescued since members of the Islamist militant group stormed the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in April 2014 and abducted nearly 300 girls. Many escaped immediately after the kidnapping, but over 200 remain missing.
The details of her rescue remain unclear. Army spokesman Sani Usman said Nigerian soldiers rescued the girl in a village called Baale, near the town of Damboa.
Aboku Gaji, leader of a vigilante group in Chibok that was set up to defend against Boko Haram, took credit for the rescue. He said his men stumbled on the girl while laying an ambush outside a militant camp.
“As we lie ambush, they come on us,” he told VOA.
He said the girl was found near the Sambisa forest, a militant stronghold where the schoolgirls were thought to have been taken after the kidnapping.
“She told us that the other girls were still there in the Sambisa,” Gaji said.
But six of the girls had died in captivity, Gaji said the girl told him.
The girl’s name remains unclear. The military identified her as Falmata Mbalala, but Gaji said her name was Amina Ali. He said her mother had confirmed her identity.
In its seven-year war to impose strict Islamic law in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has massacred civilians, burnt down villages and carried out numerous kidnappings. Over 20,000 people have been killed, and more than two million displaced.
But the Chibok kidnapping remains their most infamous crime.
It sparked protests across Nigeria, as people took to the streets, imploring the government to “bring back our girls.”
Shortly after the kidnapping, Boko Haram released a video showing the girls. Last month, CNN unearthed a video supposedly used in negotiations for the girls’ release that featured 15 of the girls.
Despite numerous rumors and false alarms, there’s been no physical sign of any of the girls, until Wednesday
Pogo Bitrus, chairperson of the Chibok Elders Forum, said he was “elated” by news of the rescue.
“At least they are alive, they are being found and whatever situation and condition, that doesn’t matter,” Bitrus said. “The important thing is, they are alive, and they are being found.”
What is Boko Haram?
- Based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.
- The self-proclaimed leader is Abubakar Shekau.
- Began in 2002 as a non-violent Islamist splinter group.
- Launched an uprising in 2009, and since 2010 has killed nearly 20,000 people.
- Its insurgency has displaced nearly 2 million people and left nearly 1 million children with little or no access to an education.
- Amnesty International said about 2,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2014. Many are used as sex slaves, fighters and suicide bombers.
- Boko Haram translates to “Western education is sinful.”
- In March 2015, Boko Haram affiliates itself with the Islamic State group.