The military gave more details yesterday about the capture of Sambisa Forest, including Camp Zero and Camp S (shape), the last bastion of the Boko Haram insurgents.
The Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, the military team that battled the sect, Major-Gen. Lucky Irabor, said yesterday that sect leader Abubakar Shekau’s Qur’an and flag were recovered.
Gen. Irabor, who gave an update on “Operation Rescue Final’’ in Maiduguri, said: “We believe that the Holy Book and the flag were abandoned by Abubakar Shekau while he escaped.
“The book will be taken to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Burutai, for onward presentation to Mr President.
“We have also made a lot of arrests. Our troops in Damboa arrested about 15 Boko Haram members. We also arrested one Musa from Potiskum on Christmas Day.
“On Dec. 26 our troops also intercepted two Boko Haram suspects in Maiduguri.
“We, therefore, warn residents of the state to be wary of people coming to hide in and around their houses.
“We are also warning residents to report any suspected Boko Haram members hiding in their houses to the relevant security agencies and any failure to do that would be tantamount to supporting and sympathising with the sect’s activities,’’ he said.
Gen. Irabor added that troops arrested about 1,240 suspected terrorists during a mop-up operation by troops inside the forest.
According to him, 413 of the suspects were adults; 323 were women; 251 male children and 253 were female children.
He said: “We are interrogating them to know whether they are Boko Haram members, because there is no way somebody that is not their member would live inside Sambisa forest.
“We are still on the trail of the terrorists and I want to assure you that all escape routes have been blocked.
“Within this period, also, about 30 fleeing suspected Boko Haram members have surrendered to the Niger Multinational Troops on the shores of the lake Chad and we learnt that they were taken to Diffa in Niger Republic.
“The suspects include 24 male and six female.
“We would like to use this opportunity to encourage the terrorists to give up the fight because the window is still open,” the commander said.
Gen. Irabor noted that the Sambisa Forest was abandoned without any government presence which made it easy for the insurgents to take advantage of the area.
He said the activities of the army in the area would not affect the original purpose of the land which is a game reserve.
He added that the army would construct roads into the forest, and called on the government and other individuals to support the army in its endeavour to succeed in the fight.
He said the operation was still on going at the Sambisa forest and other parts of the North East to ensure a total wipe out of the terrorists
Gen. Irabor pleaded with individuals and organisations to assist the military with useful information about the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists in their midst and support or logistics to end the insurgency completely and permanently.
He urged the government to move in quickly and establish civil authorities in the liberated areas to enable residents return to their various communities.
“Let me state that we have won the war by destroying terrorists’ fortress, and smoked them out from this forest. We are however in a transition phase after winning the war against Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism. We need to win the peace now”
The Theatre Commander also denied the picture of a Whiteman being circulated on the social media as a suspect arrested by troops during the operation in Sambisa forest.
“That picture of the Whiteman being circulated as an arrested Boko Haram suspect from Sambisa Forest is not from us. That picture is not from the army. It is not our picture”, Gen. Irabor said.
Niger Republic’s Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said dozens of Boko Haram fighters had given themselves up to authorities in southern Niger.
The minister said 31 young people from Diffa, who were enrolled a few years ago in Boko Haram, decided to surrender.
The fighters arrived in the remote desert town of Diffa in groups and were being held by local authorities.
“I learnt that the first who surrendered were not arrested, and I surrendered.
“We expect a pardon from the government so that we can participate in the development of the country and help us get rid of the trauma,’’ a former Boko Haram combatant told reporters.
In June, tens of thousands of people fled Diffa as Boko Haram swept the region.
Five Niger Republic soldiers were killed by the militants near Diffa in September.
It was not clear what would become of the ex-Boko Haram fighters, but authorities said there was the possibility of reintegrating them back into society.
A security source said a meeting had been held in Diffa to discuss “the conditions of surrender”, without providing further details.
Boko Haram has killed 15,000 people and displaced over two million during a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state in Nigeria.
In recent years, its attacks have spilled into neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters surrendered in Chad in October and November as the group ceded territory.
The group controlled an area about the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed back by international forces, including troops from Niger.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday announced that the army captured Boko Haram’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest on Friday. (The Nation)