#BringBackOurGirls: Chibok Victim Found in Nigeria After 2 Years, Activist Says

Image: Members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign embrace each other at a sit-out in Abuja, Nigeria
Members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign embrace each other at a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, on Wednesday after hearing that a teenager kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago was rescued.Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

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By Alexander Smith

One of the schoolgirls whose abduction triggered the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has been located after more than two years in captivity, activists and military officials said Wednesday.

The mass kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014 ignited an international outcry. The ensuing #BringBackOurGirls campaign was backed by the likes of Michelle Obama, while the U.S. and other countries sent military assistance.

A handful of the kidnapped girls managed to escape early on but most were never found.

However on Wednesday the Nigerian Army and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign group said that one of the remaining captives, a 19-year-old with a 4-month-old baby, was rescued by pro-government vigilantes on the edge of Nigeria's Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram hideout.

Alongside her, the Civilian JTF detained a "suspected Boko Haram terrorist" named Mohammed Hayatu, who claimed to be her "husband," according to a statement from Nigerian Army spokesman Col. Sani Usman.

Boko Haram fighters are known to have forced their kidnap victims into marriage, rape, and conscription as suicide bombers, according to Amnesty International and others.

A picture released by the Nigerian Army purporting to show Mohammed Hayatu, who it identified as a suspected Boko Haram "terrorist" and so-called "husband" of a rescued member of the kidnapped Chibok girls.Nigerian Army

The precise details of how the young woman was recovered by the militiamen was immediately unclear. The military initially gave a different name for the young woman, before correcting themselves.

"This is a major, major breakthrough — this is the breakthrough we've been waiting for," Bukky Shonibare, one of the strategic team members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, told NBC News. Her group also gave details of the rescue that were consistent with the military's updated account.

The young woman was taken to a military base in the town of Damboa before being brought to her mother and her former high-school head teacher — both of whom positively confirmed her identify, according to Shonibare.

The activists are "100 percent sure that this was one of the Chibok girls," Shonibare added.

The teenager, Hayatu and the baby were all taken to the regional capital of Maiduguri for medical attention and screening, the military said.

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign embrace each other at a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, on Wednesday after hearing that a teenager kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago was rescued.Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

According to Shonibare’s account, the girl said the rest of the Chibok girls were in the Sambisa Forest, contradicting previous suggestions that the group had been split up and taken abroad.

"At some points we heard they were in four different camps," she said. "Now this girl is saying all of them are in Sambisa … It's just 24 hours since [ she was found], so we need to, as the days go by, get more information from her to get an assessment of how many are there."

John Campbell, the former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, told NBC News: "If the positive ID by the mother and the head teacher checks out, it would seem that she really is one of the Chibok girls. The question is whether it does check out."

He added: "I would want to talk to the mother and head teacher rather than a military spokesman who, as far as I'm concerned, as limited credibility."

While the Chibok Girls drew the most international attention, an estimated 2,000-plus women and girls have been abducted during Boko Haram's violent campaign in Nigeria. Chibok may not even be the largest group to be kidnapped, with Human Rights Watch reporting that some 400 people were taken from the town of Damasak last year.

The army gave details of a large-scale operation against Boko Haram on Tuesday — the day the young woman was reportedly found — in Sambisa forest.

The military said troops killed 15 Boko Haram fighters after coming under heavy fire in the area of Alafa.

Troops also rescued 41 hostages — mainly women and children, the military added in a statement.

While Nigeria’s government has publicly touted an aggressive campaign to beat back Boko Haram, its failure to find the girls has drawn criticism.

The news comes one day after the president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, presented “symbolic” checks to the mothers of the missing girls.

Editor's note: The name of the young woman has been removed from this story as it was not clear whether she consented to her identity being released.

Cassandra Vinograd contributed.