The leader of the radical Islamic group, Boko Haram, was allowed to walk away as the army took over the militants’ main camp in the Sambisa Forest in north-east Nigeria earlier this month, the BBC has revealed.
Abubakar Shekau, the country’s most-wanted man, has been designated a terrorist by the US government. The army has issued a bounty equivalent to $8,000 for his capture. The US government has also offered a reward of up to $7m for information about his location.
But in a recent operation, soldiers were very close to the Sambisa Forest when they were ordered to stop and eventually forced to retreat, a witness from the vigilante forces, working alongside the Nigerian army, told the BBC.
This allowed Shekau to escape from his hideout, leaving behind his cap, a laptop, his jacket, his chewing stick (commonly used in Africa to clean teeth) and a pistol, the witness added. “They ran away. I saw them with my naked eyes,” he said.
The army has repeatedly claimed to have caught, killed or injured Shekau. President Muhammadu Buhari has also repeatedly claimed that Boko Haram was technically defeated.
But according to a Boko Haram commander who defected just after the forest raid, the militants are “still armed, but most of what they say is propaganda”.
Schoolgirls’ kidnapping foiled
Meanwhile, schoolgirls in the town of Dapchi, Yobe state have escaped a kidnapping attempt, as Boko Haram stormed their boarding school last night (19 February).
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a boarding school in the north-eastern town of Chibok.
Residents and civilian militia in Dapchi say they believe the jihadists had planned to kidnap schoolgirls in their town too, the BBC reports.
Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives and forced more than 2 million others to flee.
The Chibok girls represent only a tiny fraction of the number of women captured by the militant group in northern Nigeria.