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All About .. 'Boko Haram' - 'School Girls' - 'Nigeria'.
Re: All About .. 'Boko Haram' - 'School Girls' - 'Nigeria'.
posted at 5/13/2014 5:53 AM EDT
NIGERIAN GIRLS SEEN IN VIDEO FROM MILITANTS
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Boko Haram Leader Offers Prisoner Swap
The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his fighters last month in an exchange for prisoners.
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The fears have been mounting for weeks: that the girls have been sold, married off, spirited across international borders, and perhaps even killed. Their fate has become the focus of intense international concern, with Michelle Obama holding up a placard appealing for their safe return and governments across the globe pledging to help track them down.
On Monday came the first hint that many of them may still be alive: a video from Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls last month, shows scores of girls, covered from head to toe, stone-faced, somewhere in the pervasive semidesert scrub that covers this arid region.
After weeks of global concern over the girls’ plight, Boko Haram appears to have seized on the international attention and begun to use the girls as bargaining chips in its war with the Nigerian state.
Mothers of the missing schoolgirls wailed in anguish on Sunday as they waited for a visiting dignitary in the burned-out ruins of the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.In Town of Missing Girls, Sorrow, but Little ProgressMAY 11, 2014
video Video: Boko Haram Kidnapping Tactics, ExplainedMAY 9, 2014
“These girls will not leave our hands until you release our brothers in your prison,” Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, warns in the video.
A screengrab from a video released by Boko Haram claiming to show the missing girls. Credit via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
If genuine, the video would be the first public glimpse of the girls since they were seized on April 14 from the village of Chibok in Nigeria’s far northeast, a region in turmoil for years over an Islamist insurgency.
In the message, Mr. Shekau seems almost surprised at the global shock over the mass abduction of schoolgirls, and tries to use it to his advantage.
“Just because we kidnapped these young girls, you are making noise?” Mr. Shekau says in the video. “You are making so much noise about Chibok, Chibok, Chibok.”
In a previous video message just last week, Mr. Shekau had treated the girls more as an ideological prize than a negotiating tactic, calling them slaves and threatening to “sell them in the market.”
He reiterated the group’s longstanding position that “Western education should end,” and warned that, “Girls, you should go and get married.”
But in the latest video, Boko Haram’s demands became more focused on its violent struggle with the Nigerian authorities, saying the girls would not be freed until the release of “our brethren that are held all over Nigeria,” Mr. Shekau said.
At one point, he chuckles, waves a stick at the camera, spits out the word “infidel” in Hausa, the dominant language of Nigeria’s north, and promises to “kidnap even Obama.”
The video offered a fleeting picture of the coerced new life these teenagers, until recently simply high school students who saw their parents every morning, have been thrust into.
The girls chant verses passively. Two hold up the black flag of the Islamists in the background. Three girls are questioned by an off-camera voice. One says she converted to Islam because “Jesus is not the son of God.” Another tells the interviewer in a rote monotone: “I will rebel against my parents. I am grateful to God. I have seen the correct path.”
The interviewer asks if she has been “manhandled,” and she answers, “no.” He asks what she has been eating, and the solemn answer is, rice.
It is unclear whether the Nigerian government, widely criticized for its inability to rescue any of the kidnapped girls, is in negotiations with Boko Haram. A top northern official said over the weekend that the federal authorities in the capital, Abuja, had engaged the services of an “Australian intermediary” to negotiate with the group.
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Adding credence to his assertion, the official noted days before the video was released that the group appeared to be seeking a “prisoner exchange.” A government spokesman on Sunday stopped short of an outright denial, saying merely that he was “not aware” of “formal” negotiations.
Still, over the five years of the Boko Haram insurgency, reports of negotiations with the group have frequently trickled out of Abuja, with no clear results. The Nigerian government has continued its aggressive, sometimes brutal, counterinsurgency campaign, killing many civilians in the process. Boko Haram has showed little reservation about killing large numbers of civilians, and when it has wanted its prisoners released, it has sometimes simply attacked the prisons where they were held.
Just in March, the government said that Boko Haram carried out an assault on a notorious military detention center where hundreds of suspected extremists were held. Well over 500 people, most of them detainees, were killed in the episode, many by Nigerian security forces.
In this region, where few aspects of civilian life are fully insulated from the violence, schools had been closed for weeks before the mass kidnapping because of other Boko Haram attacks. But the girls had come back to the Chibok government school to take an exam, and were staying overnight. The Islamists overpowered what little police protection the town possessed, and seized more than 300 girls. About 50 were able to flee their captors. Chibok is primarily a Christian village, and Mr. Shekau appeared to acknowledge that many of the girls seized were not Muslims. “The girls that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers,” he said. “And we treat them well the way the prophet treated the infidels he seized.”
The education commissioner here in Borno state said that he would bring the girls’ parents to the state capital to watch the video on Tuesday, to see if they could identify their daughters. One parent reached in Chibok said that nobody there had seen it because there was no electricity. The chairman of the local government, Bana Lawan, watching the video on Monday said, “this face is familiar to me,” as one of the girls was questioned on the video. But he said it was difficult to identify others because of their extensive clothing.
On Monday, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said of the video: “We have no reason to question its authenticity. Our intelligence experts are combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help in ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls.”
The United States is part of a worldwide effort to try to rescue the girls. American surveillance aircraft have joined the search, making flights over Nigeria, and imagery from satellites has been provided to the Nigerian government, according to an American official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a delicate operation.
In the past, the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, has remarked that it was not possible to negotiate with the group, suggesting it was too nebulous, erratic and violent an organization to engage with.
The video released Monday reinforced that view, as Mr. Shekau, wearing fatigues and cradling a rifle, stares intently into the camera, makes wild threats and seems to glory in the worldwide attention the girls’ kidnapping has brought him. He squints and grins, and at times his voice cracks in excitement at his newfound celebrity.
“I don’t follow international law,” he says, as if mocking the world’s outrage at the abduction of the girls. He adds: “There are many verses in the Quran that allows the seizing of slaves. Abduction of slaves is allowed.”
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