By Lanre Ola
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria's military on Monday released 593 people after clearing them of having ties with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, a spokesman said.
The military has arrested thousands in its fight against the insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in the northeast, now in its eighth year, which has killed over 20,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes.
The chief of army staff directed that those arrested be "released unconditionally if found not to have anything to do with insurgency or Boko Haram", said Brigadier General Abdulraman Kuliya.
He added that the 593 who were freed had been arrested in multiple locations, held for varying lengths of time up to three months and were comprised of elderly people, men, women and children.
The military said they were handed over to the state government in Borno - the birthplace of the insurgency.
Attacks or attempted attacks bearing the hallmarks of Boko Haram in crowded areas have escalated since the end of the rainy season late last year. However, most have either been foiled or the suicide bombers managed only to blow themselves up.
In the most recent attack, two female suicide bombers detonated explosives on the edge of the university in Borno state capital Maiduguri on Monday, blowing themselves up but causing no other casualties.
(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Toby Chopra)