Hundreds of women and children have been seized from Nigerian primary schools by Boko Haram militants to be used as ‘human shields’ as the extremist group starts to lose its grip on the region.

The Islamic militants took adults and children from primary schools in the north-eastern town of Damasak as troops from Niger and Chad approached a month ago, Mike Omeri, the Nigerian spokesman for the fight against Boko Haram, confirmed this week.

When the soldiers arrived, they found the town largely deserted – with local reports suggesting as many as 500 people were taken in the raids. 

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Kidnapped: As many as 500 women and children were taken from Damasak, in north-eastern Nigeria, as Chadian troops (pictured) advanced on the town, which had been held by Boko Haram for months

Mr Omeri refused to be drawn on exactly how many people had been taken by Boko Haram militants, but he was clear on the reason why they had been kidnapped. 

‘Boko Haram …rushed to primary schools they took children and adults that they are using as shields to protect themselves from the menacing advance of troops,’ he said.

‘They are being used as shields by Boko Haram.’ 

Damasak, which is near the border with Niger and had been held by Boko Haram for months, was recaptured on March 16 – but officials have only confirmed the kidnappings now.

Evidence of a mass grave was also discovered by the troops from Chad and Niger, who now hold the town, Chad’s ambassador to the U.N.Mahamat Zene Cherif confirmed Wednesday.

Last week, the troops found the bodies of at least 70 people in an apparent execution site under a bridge leading out of Damasak, which had been used as an administrative centre for kbc paper 2022 the extremists who hope to create their own ‘caliphate’ in the region.

Defence: Officials believe they were taken so they could be used as human shields when troops arrived.Pictured: Chadian army celebrates entering Damasak – showing off one of Boko Haram’s flags

A 40-year-old resident, who gave her name as Fana, said fighters had rounded up captives in the main mosque before taking them out of town. 

She said she saved her two children by hiding them in her house.  

The news of the mass kidnappings and killings comes at a crucial time – just days before Nigeria goes to the polls in crucial elections.

The six-year battle against the insurgents is one of the major issues voters will be considering on Saturday.

Gruesome: Soldiers also discovered a mass grave near the town. Pictured: Seizing the militants’ weapons

Thousands have already lost their lives – including an estimated 10,000 last year alone – while more than 174,000 people are thought to have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger as refugees. 

Last year, Boko Haram’s reign of terror hit the international headlines when they took 276 girls from a government boarding school.

Dozens escaped in the first couple of days, but 219 remain missing.

Since then, troops from Nigeria’s neighbours have started to help the country combat the militants and win back Nigerian towns.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram has vowed to violently disrupt the elections.