MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nigeria's army released 244 Boko Haram suspects who have denounced their membership in the deadly extremist group, Nigerian army officials said Tuesday.
Those released Monday included 118 adult males, 56 women, 19 teens and 51 children, according to operation commander Maj. Gen. Rogers Nicholas, who said they were freed after participating in a de-radicalization program.
One of the released females said she was accused of being a cook for Boko Haram and was held by Nigerian authorities for about a year.
Nigeria is trying to show it is making progress against the extremist group that has killed more than 20,000 people during its eight-year insurgency. Nigeria has arrested thousands of suspected Boko Haram members in recent years and is holding them in overcrowded military detention facilities.
Human rights groups say most of those detained have been picked up at random and without reasonable suspicion, including women and children. Former detainees have described malnutrition, mistreatment and deaths in the facilities.
The public release Monday of the ex-Boko Haram suspects at the military barracks in Maiduguri was done to mark Nigeria's Armed Forces Remembrance Day. Young men were paraded at the event in Maiduguri, telling the state governor they have turned a new leaf and are ready to help provide the government with information.
Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima commended the military its ongoing efforts against Boko Haram.
Nigeria's government set up a de-radicalization program in 2016 for arrested Boko Haram fighters who wanted to quit the group. The program houses ex-Boko Haram insurgents in a military-controlled facility where they participate in exercises to rehabilitate them. They are granted amnesty if they denounce Boko Haram's radical ideologies.
Last year more than 800 Boko Haram fighters participated in the de-radicalization program under the Safe Corridor Initiative, said Nigeria's defence chief Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin.
The freedom granted to the 244 people came the same day Boko Haram's main leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video in which he claimed none of the Chibok girls still held by Boko Haram would ever be found. He said his group last year "willingly" released 107 schoolgirls who refused to accept his creed, but the estimated 100 who remain are pleased to stay with Boko Haram.
He also mocked the parents of the remaining missing girls, saying they should consider his members as their sons-in-law because the girls are "happily" married to Boko Haram fighters.
The video purportedly showed some of the girls telling their parents to join them in their new faith because "our father Abubakar Shekau has married us off to our husbands and he also ensures that we are well taken care of."
The clip also showed images of military vehicles, armoured tanks and a helicopter that Shekau claimed his men had destroyed during a shootout last week.
Boko Haram, Nigeria's homegrown extreme Islamic militia, wants to set aside the country's constitution and replace it with Shariah law. Since launching its violent campaign in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and staged attacks in neighbouring countries participating in a military operation against it.
Haruna Umar, The Associated Press