Hundreds of civilians, including many children, have been abducted and are being used as human shields by Boko Haram extremists, a top Nigerian official confirmed Wednesday.
The news of the mass kidnappings comes as Nigeria prepares for crucial elections on Saturday.
Several hundred people were taken captive by the Islamic terrorists as they retreated earlier this month from Damasak in northeastern Nigeria, Mike Omeri, the Nigerian spokesman for the fight against Boko Haram, told The Associated Press Wednesday. He said he could not specify how many were taken captive but local reports say as many as 500 people were seized.
When troops from Chad and Niger advanced toward Damasak, Boko Haram began taking captives, said Omeri, speaking in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
“Boko Haram … rushed to primary schools they took children and adults that they are using as shields to protect themselves from the menacing advance of troops,” said Omeri. “They are being used as shields by Boko Haram.”
Damasak, near the border with Niger, was recaptured from Boko Haram on March 16. The kidnappings of civilians has only been confirmed now.
Nigeria’s battle against the Islamic terrorists is a major issue for the elections to be held Saturday. The 6-year-old Islamic insurgency has killed thousands, including an estimated 10,000 last year. Boko Haram has vowed to violently disrupt the elections.