The Nigerian army has said it recaptured and secured the northeastern town of Chibok, where Boko Haram rebels kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
The feared armed group, which has been engaged in a lengthy and bloody campaign of deliberate civilian atrocities, had captured the town on Thursday after a battle lasting several hours. The army reportedly fled the assault on Thursday, leaving the town's vigilantes to fight on their own. Given the town's symbolic significance, its fall raised fresh doubts about Nigeria's ability to handle the Boko Haram threat.
But a town official and vigilantes who participated in the operation confirmed to Al Jazeera that Chibok had been retaken on Saturday evening.
They said that while Boko Haram fighters had been driven out of the town, they were not confident it was safe enough to have people return there immediately. Thousands of refugees had fled Chibok for the nearby town of Damboa beginning in April, when the girls were kidnapped, Chibok residents said.
Control of Chibok is crucial to the reputation of the army and the government, both of which have come under harsh criticism for their failure to rescue the schoolgirls.
The rebels stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the evening of April 14 and forced 276 students onto trucks in a mass abduction that caused global outrage. Fifty-seven managed to escape.
In a recent video, Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau said he had married the mostly Christian girls off and added that they had converted to Islam. He also dismissed reports from Nigerian government officials that a cease-fire had been brokered or that peace talks were underway.
His group has seized more than 20 towns and villages in Nigeria's northeast in recent months.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly promised to rescue the schoolgirls, most recently last Tuesday, when he launched his bid for a second term in office ahead of Feb. 14 polls.
Al Jazeera and wire services