Assignment for The New York Times. Portrait of Surrendered Boko Haram Fighters;  MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — For over a decade, the extremist group Boko Haram has terrorized northeastern Nigeria killing tens of thousands of people, kidnapping schoolgirls and sending suicide bombers into busy marketplaces. Now, thousands of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered, along with their family members, and are being housed by the government in a compound in the city of Maiduguri, the group’s birthplace and its frequent target. 



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A khaid, or high-ranking Boko Haram commander. He said he saw Abubakar Shekau, the extremist group’s leader, blow himself up. He surrendered, he said, because the leaders were gone, and he wanted to give his children a chance to live normal lives.

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A teenager who was abducted by Boko Haram and married to a fighter at age 10. She escaped by wading for hours through deep water, a dangerous feat because she did not know how to swim. She turned herself in, and is being held in the same camp as many men who kidnapped, raped and enslaved girls like her.Credit. Tom Saater for The New York Times
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A 29-year-old mid-level commander, who said he worked his way up from washing the motorcycle of Boko Haram’s feared leader, Abubakar Shekau. He is a hafiz, someone who has memorized the Quran, but he said he never knew what it meant and had accepted Boko Haram’s violent interpretation.

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The wife of a khaid, or senior Boko Haram commander, age 30. She said she had been married twice — first to a man she didn’t know who had joined the group and rose to the rank of khaid. When he died, she remarried a khaid. Shortly after surrendering, in the Hajj Camp where Boko Haram defectors are being held, she gave birth.

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A spy for Boko Haram, 28. He and hundreds of other spies were given motorbikes and told to report any activity on the roads and in the bush, and what people were saying about the group. He led Boko Haram fighters to communities targeted for attack. He said he had killed 10 people, but had caused the deaths of countless others.

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A fighter, 23, who said he was lured by gifts of money to join Boko Haram at age 13. He recounted burning down towns and making their inhabitants recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. Most people in Boko Haram want to surrender, the fighter said, but are scared the military will kill them.

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Maiduguri at night. “How safe, how secure are we?” residents ask.

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