YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — Cameroon's military has freed 72 people, including children, held illegally in the north for periods ranging from eight months to four years, an official said Tuesday.
Police detained Mallam Danlatti, the owner of the camp in the town of Ngaoundere, where the people were held, said the governor of the Adamawa region Abakar Ahamat. He alleged that Danlatti may have links to leaders of the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria's north.
"There are many of such problems we are facing because of our geographic location, sharing a boundary with Nigeria," he said. "We must be vigilant at every moment and multiply strategies to combat this new form of crime." Boko Haram has also recruited in Cameroon and staged attacks there.
Ousmaila Ibrahim, 45, said he was one of the 72 captives, including 20 men, 50 boys and two girls. He said they had been chained, given food and water every other day and were prohibited from bathing more than once in three months. He said they were detained in a 16-square-meter (19 sq. yard) room and slept on the bare floor. The children were told this was a part of Islamic teachings, he said.
"People should not hide behind religion to do bad things," he said after his release early Monday.
Imam Baba Moussa of Cameroon's Ngaoundere Mosque said such practices are not part of Islam, and warned parents about Boko Haram fighters who may be recruiting children.
"Their parents say they gave their children to learn good religion," and learn good behavior, Moussa said. "But correction does not mean brutality."
Danlatti reportedly asked parents to send children for rehabilitation to him more than eight months ago.
Local leaders called for investigations.