Cameroon Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary announced in a press conference Friday that 25 suspects of the militant terror group had been found dead in their cells in December, one day after their arrest, but denied accusations of systemic rights abuses by Cameroon's army in its effort to crush the Nigerian-based Islamists. Bakary clarified that the suspects were part of a group of 56 detainees, and the cause of their deaths is still being investigated.
"I can already state here that at this stage of investigation, no evidence has been established to corroborate that these persons were deliberately killed," Bakary noted. The Minister added that a senior military official has been removed from his post and faces an investigation over the deaths.
In January, the Central Africa-based rights group Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa reported that 50 suspected Boko Haram suspects being held by Cameroon authorities had suffocated to death in their cells, citing "reliable sources." The rights group noted that the suspects were then buried in a mass grave, and accused the army of engaging in systemic rights violations, including torture, "with impunity."
Cameroon is participating in a multinational force led by the Nigerian army aimed at smashing the Boko Haram militant terror group, following repeated attacks on its northern provinces from neighboring northeastern Nigeria, where the group has conquered an estimated 50,000 square kilometers of territory since 2014.
Earlier this week, Boko Haram was reported to have pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, with ISIL accepting their pledge.
Boko Haram was founded in northern Nigeria in 2009 as an effort to impose Islamic rule there. The group is believed to have killed more than 5,000 civilians between 2009 and 2014 in attacks occurring mainly in northeast, north-central and central Nigeria but which have also spilled into neighboring states including Chad, Niger and Cameroon.