BANGLADESH — Boko Haram leaders who have been on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes have been released on Monday after a year of imprisonment, Nigeria’s government said.
The group, which has abducted thousands and slaughtered thousands, declared a national Islamic state and declared a caliphate in May 2014.
It had been held by the military since 2009.
But after more than a year in custody, the group announced a halt to its activities, which it has blamed on outside forces.
It said it would not hold elections and pledged to rejoin the global fight against terrorism.
The president, Muhammadu Buhari, said he had decided to release the group’s leaders to ensure they could lead a free and peaceful nation.
“We must not allow these terrorists to rule Nigeria,” Buhri said.
“I call on them to come and return home.”
Buhari also announced that a national census would be conducted within 30 days, which he said would provide an accurate estimate of the number of Boko Haram members and civilians in the country.
In a statement released late on Monday, Buhuris office said it had given the leaders the freedom to return home.
The president said the group had not made any public announcement of the outcome of the census.
The United States and Britain have said the results of the polls will be used to judge the country’s future in the war against Boko Haram.
“The Nigerian government has confirmed that its new president, who was appointed on Monday and who is the son of an armed group leader, Muhammadun Buhary, will have the ability to appoint the countrys new president,” the White House said in a statement.
“In a country where a majority of the population is under the sway of Boko Haus, it is an important step in the right direction.”
The U.S. State Department said it was “gravely concerned” about the results, adding that the United States has repeatedly raised its concerns about Boko Haram and its threat to the region and to U.N. peacekeeping troops.
“This is a clear violation of Nigeria’s obligations under international law and its commitment to ensuring accountability for crimes committed by the Islamic extremist group,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in the statement.