Nigeria military clears and releases 125 'Boko Haram detainees'

Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri (AFP Photo/Quentin Leboucher)

Maiduguri (Nigeria) (AFP) - Nigeria's military on Saturday released 125 people it said were arrested in an operation against Boko Haram but were later found to not be part of the Islamist group.

The latest release came two days after 42 others were set free in similar circumstances.

Throughout Boko Haram's five-year uprising, Nigeria's security services have been criticised for carrying out mass arrests and holding alleged Islamist rebels indefinitely with little or no evidence.

Rights groups have pressured Nigeria to either charge in court or release the suspected militants it has in custody.

Northeast army spokesman Sani Usman told journalists the 125 individuals were picked up on September 23 in the town of Biu in Borno state, Boko Haram's stronghold.

A total of 254 people "were intercepted" in the military operation, and "quite a number were confirmed to be hardcore members of the terrorist group," he said.

"However, the 125 people in front of you today were found to have no link whatsoever with" Boko Haram, Usman told journalists in Borno's capital Maiduguri.

Among those released was Ibrahim Umar who said he was driving a truck loaded with sheep on the outskirts of Biu when the military pulled him over and detained him.

"I am sure my family would be shocked to see me alive because nobody ever saw me since the day I was arrested," he said.

Borno's Governor Kashim Shettima said the decision to release those found to be innocent "bolstered" the "image of the army."

Speaking following the release of the 42 people on Thursday, Shettima said that group would receive 100,000 naira ($600, 480 euros) "to enable them to start a new life."

He also directed state officials to help them find jobs.

It was not clear if the 125 detainees released Saturday would be given the same benefits.

The military's release of apparently innocent civilians caught up in operations against Boko Haram may be welcomed by rights groups who have condemned indiscriminate detentions.

But Nigeria's security services were again this week accused of major abuses.

Sixteen people in the northeast town of Potiskum were dropped at a morgue with bullet holes in their bodies after having been arrested by soldiers.

Local leaders called for an immediate investigation and some described the deaths as "cold-blooded murder."

Meanwhile, Boko Haram attacks have continued at a relentless pace, despite disputed government claims that ceasefire talks are ongoing with insurgent leaders.

The uprising is estimated to have cost more than 10,000 lives.