Nigerian forces free more than 180 hostages after weeks in forest

At least 187 people including babies have been freed in Nigeria’s troubled north, police said, in one of the country’s largest liberations of kidnap victims.

igerian security forces rescued the hostages from a forest in Zamfara state where they had been held for many weeks, Zamfara police spokesperson Mohammed Shehu said in a statement.

He said they were released “unconditionally”, indicating that no ransoms were paid.

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Police and officials speak to the freed hostages (Nigeria Police Force/AP)

The hostages were freed on Thursday as a result of “extensive search and rescue operations”, and were helped by sweeping security measures including a shutdown of mobile phone networks and restrictions on gatherings and movements in the state, Mr Shehu said.

“The new security measures in the state have been yielding tremendous results, as they have led to the successful rescue of many abducted victims that run into hundreds, and (they) have been reunited with their respective families,” Mr Shehu said.

Nigeria’s security agencies will continue working “to ensure the return of lasting peace and security in the state”, he added.

The people had been kidnapped by armed bandits who operate in remote forest reserves in Nigeria’s north west.

Gangs of outlaws on motorcycles attack rural villages where they murder, rape, steal and take hostages.

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The hostages were freed in Zamfara state (Nigeria Police Force/AP)

The large bands often outnumber police and security in the settlements they attack, and there are thousands of such bandits, according to security experts.

The bandits are also often better equipped than the military, according to Abdulaziz Yari, a former governor of Zamfara state.

In July, they shot down a military fighter jet in Zamfara, he said.

The security situation in north-west Nigeria has been deteriorating in recent months and has had an “increasingly suffocating effect” on the economy of the region, said Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for the International Crisis Group.

In addition to increasing internal security measures, the Nigerian government must improve security along Nigeria’s border with its northern neighbouring Niger, he said.

The area is a notorious route for the bandits who camp in vast forest lands between Nigeria and Niger, he said.

Border security “needs to be taken as seriously as the internal security operations”, he said, adding that there is “a serious deficit of will” to tackle the crisis at federal, state and local government levels.

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