Here are updates on the abduction of Muslim and Christian Nigerian school girls kidnapped from the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok by the extremist Islamic fundamentalists Boko Haram.
The abduction occurred on the night of April 14-15, 2014.
The school counted Muslim and Christian girls among its students. Many people have questions on what Boko Haram wants and how this group came about.
The following report from CNN gives some information on Boko Haram.
Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge
Boko Haram ‘increasingly monstrous’
- Boko Haram’s aim is to impose strict enforcement of Sharia law in Nigeria
- The name translates to “Western education is sin”
- The group was founded 12 years ago by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic cleric
- Nigerian police killed him in 2009 in an incident captured on video and posted online
(CNN) — Boko Haram‘s lethality is indisputable.
The militant group has bombed schools, churches and mosques; kidnapped women and children; and assassinated politicians and religious leaders alike.
It made headlines again recently with the abduction of 230 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. After a fierce gunbattle with soldiers, the militants herded the girls out of bed and onto buses, and sped off. Only a few dozen of the girls have escaped.
What exactly is Boko Haram, and why has it turned into a Nigerian synonym for fear and bloodshed?
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What does ‘Boko Haram’ mean?
The name translates to “Western education is sin” in the local Hausa language.
The militant group says its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.
In recent years, its attacks have intensified in an apparent show of defiance amid the nation’s military onslaught. Its ambitions appear to have expanded to the destruction of the Nigerian government.
How long has it been around?
Map: Where the girls were kidnapped
The group was founded 12 years ago by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic cleric who called for a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. Police killed him in 2009 in an incident captured on video and posted to the Internet.
The crackdown, some say, made Boko Haram more violent and defiant.
Abubakar Shekau took control of the group and escalated the attacks. It murdered and kidnapped Westerners, and started a bombing campaign that targeted churches, mosques and government buildings.
Why not just kill Abubakar Shekau?
One word: elusive.
Questions have swirled about Shekau, including whether he’s dead or alive. Even his age is unknown — estimates range between 35 and 44.
In recent years, the Nigerian military has touted his death, only to retract its claim after he appeared alive and vibrant in propaganda videos.
He uses the alias Darul Tawheed, and analysts describe him as a ruthless loner and master of disguise. He does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate through a few select confidants.
Why would an Islamist militant group target the Muslim north?
Despite its religious fanaticism, Boko Haram does not consider all Muslims as supporters and allies.
There have been suggestions that it attacks certain mosques because members have spoken out against it and helped federal officials with their crackdown. Its attacks are aimed at striking fear at the heart of the local population to prevent cooperation with the government, analysts say.
Does the north support the group?
Although the northern populace mostly abhors the violence, there is considerable local sympathy and support for Sharia law, seen by many as the only way to end what is widely regarded as a corrupt and inept government. Poverty is prevalent in the northern region, and as the military struggles to halt Boko Haram’s attacks, the militant group is winning perhaps its most important battle: making Nigerians question government competency.
Rights groups have accused local authorities of human rights violations in the fight against the group, adding to the anti-government sentiment.
What’s the West doing to help?
The United States has put a $7 million bounty on Shekau’s head. It also designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist network last year. Though it has provided technical and financial support to the Nigerian teams battling the insurgency, there has been a reluctance to put boots on the ground unless there’s a direct national security threat to the West. Boko Haram’s attacks have been limited primarily to Nigeria.
I don’t live in Nigeria, so why should I care?
With a population of 175 million, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and is considered a political and economic powerhouse in the continent. The key U.S. partner is rich in oil, a major trading partner with China, and is the hub of global business in the region.
And as we’ve learned with Mali, any unresolved local Islamist insurgency has the potential of spiraling into a world problem.
Last year, Shekau released a statement vowing to attack the United States and Europe.
“Our strength and firepower is bigger than that of Nigeria. Nigeria is no longer a big deal to us, as far as we are concerned. We will now comfortably confront the United States of America,” he said.
Does it have ties to al Qaeda?
The U.S. says Boko Haram has links to the al Qaeda affiliate in West Africa and to extremist groups in Mali.
What other attacks has the group conducted?
Just this week, a massive explosion ripped through a bus station in the Nigerian capital, killing at least 71 people. In a video, Shekau said the group was behind the attack.
In November, the group abducted dozens of Christian women, most of whom were later rescued by the military. Some were pregnant or had children, and others had been forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers.
In 2011, a Boko Haram suicide attack on the United Nations building in Abuja killed at least 25 people.
Scared but alive: Video purports to show abducted Nigerian girls
- NEW: The United States sends surveillance planes, satellite images to help search
- All options are on the table to gain release of abducted girls, official says
- The comments come after Boko Haram video claims to show some of the girls
- Man thought to be Boko Haram leader says he’ll exchange the girls for prisoners
(CNN) — The girls sit quietly on the ground, dressed in traditional Islamic garb, barely moving, clearly scared.
“Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world,” they chant.
The video, released by French news agency Agence France-Presse, purports to show about 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters nearly a month ago. It’s the first time they’ve been seen since their abduction April 14.
In separate shots included in the 27-minute video, a man says he will release the girls only after imprisoned members of Boko Haram are freed, according to AFP.
Escaped girl recalls kidnapping ordeal
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First lady: Kidnappings ‘unconscionable’
The man identifies himself as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Nigerian officials disputed that claim on Monday, arguing that Shekau is dead. Other experts say the notorious terror group leader is still alive.
Whoever the man in the video is, Nigeria’s interior minister said, the country isn’t interested in negotiating a swap anyway, according to AFP.
But at a later briefing, the director of the National Orientation Agency, a government information ministry, said negotiations could be an option when it comes to rescuing the kidnapped girls.
When asked whether all options were on the table, agency Director Mike Omeri said yes.
“The government of Nigeria will continue to explore all options for the release and safe return of our girls back to their respective homes,” Omeri told CNN.
Experts reviewing video
If authentic, the video released Monday is the first glimpse of the girls since Boko Haram fighters snatched them from a boarding school in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok.
A senior administration official told CNN that U.S. officials have no reason to question its authenticity.
“Our intelligence experts are combing over every detail of the video for clues that might help in the ongoing efforts (to) secure the release of the girls,” the official said.
The abductions have resulted in worldwide outrage directed at the terror group and an influx of Western counterterrorism and law enforcement experts to help Nigeria fight it.
Filmed in a nondescript clearing surrounded by scrub and trees, the girls appear dressed in gray or black veils. Many look nervous or under duress. In one shot, a girl almost whispers a line from the Quran.
In separate shots filmed against a green backdrop, the man who claims to be Shekau says the girls — who come from a Christian stronghold — have converted to Islam.
He appears to open a window to the possibility of negotiating a swap: the girls for Boko Haram prisoners held by Nigeria.
“By Allah, these girls will not leave our hands until you release our brothers in your prison,” he said. “You took our brothers four or five years ago, and now they are in your prisons. You do many things, and now you talk of these girls. We will not let them go until you release our brothers.”
But he also says he still plans to sell them into slavery.
Map: Nima Elbagir’s route to Chibok
U.S. military advisers arrive in Nigeria
Complications in the search for Nigerian girls
Boko Haram attack survivor speaks
A reason for optimism?
Some observers took the video as encouraging.
Not only would it prove that at least some girls are alive and unharmed, said retired U.S. Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, a CNN military analyst, it also gives intelligence analysts something with which to work.
Nigerian government officials also took notice. The governor of the state where Chibok is located, Borno, ordered officials to distribute the video to parents to help identify the girls.
Gov. Kashim Shettima “views the development as encouraging, especially given the fact that some of the girls said they were not harmed,” his office said in a statement. “The governor hopes that the girls did not speak under duress.”
Despite the optimism, Marks said it will still be painfully difficult to find and rescue the girls after a month in the terror group’s custody.
“We have to lower our expectations, sadly, as to what we think this result and outcome is going to look like,” he told CNN’s “New Day.”
A daring escape
A CNN team made the dangerous journey to Chibok to gather firsthand accounts of the abductions.
Before the gun-wielding Islamist militants rode into town, residents said they got cell phone calls that the feared extremist group was on the way. Family and friends from surrounding villages told them of a convoy of cargo trucks, pickups and motorcycles.
Residents said they passed along warnings to local authorities that night. Police called for reinforcements, but none came. Everyone, including police, fled into the bush. But the girls remained asleep in their dorms.
CNN’s Nima Elbagir toured the school, gutted by militants as they fled, and spoke with one of the girls who managed to escape Boko Haram fighters that night.
The girl told Elbagir how she made a dash for freedom after militants loaded them into trucks and drove them into the nearby Sambisa Forest.
“We ran into the bush,” she said of her escape with two others. “We ran and we ran.” Lost and terrified, she said, they later ran toward flames they presumed were rising from a building set ablaze by the militants in their hometown.
The escapees were lucky. The missing girls probably have been separated and taken out of the country by now, officials said.
“The search must be in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, to see if we can find information,” said Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister and a U.N. special envoy for global education.
But Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he believes the girls are still in the forest where the militants disappeared shortly after their capture.
Who’s the man in the video?
Government officials disputed Monday that the man in the video with the girls is Shekau.
Security forces have confirmed and are sure Shekau is dead, said Marilyn Ogar, deputy director of State Security Services in Nigeria. “So whoever is speaking as Abubakar Shekau is not Abubakar Shekau.”
The same man appears in Boko Haram videos claiming to be Shekau at least as far back as August. And at least one expert doubted Ogar’s claim.
Jacob Zenn, an expert on Boko Haram at the Jamestown Foundation, a policy center based in Washington, said he is skeptical of the Nigerian claim unless it can be backed up with hard evidence.
He said Nigerian authorities have said Shekau was dead several times, only for him to resurface and for the Nigerian military subsequently to acknowledge that he was alive.
“The two recent videos after the abduction of the girls look similar to most of the images, voice and mannerisms of Shekau in almost all Boko Haram videos, including videos when he was a local imam in northeastern Nigeria before 2010,” Zenn said.
If the government’s assertion turns out to be untrue, it wouldn’t be the first time it has been wrong about the terror group since the girls’ abductions. Early in their disappearance, government officials said many of the girls had been recovered — news that, sadly, turned out to be incorrect.
Global search effort
While experts analyze the video, the international effort to find the girls is gaining steam.
U.S. and British officials are in the capital of Abuja to help look for the girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to quash the terror group.
The United States is providing manned Defense Department aerial surveillance planes over Nigerian territory and sharing commercial satellite images with Nigeria as part of efforts to find the girls, two senior Obama administration officials told CNN’s Elise Labott on Monday.
China and France are also helping in the search. Israel plans to send a team of counterterrorism experts to help, Jonathan’s office said Sunday.
The United States has said it has no plans to send combat troops.
The U.S. team is working to help the Nigerian military plan operations and boost its capacity, providing investigation and intelligence support, advising on hostage negotiations and other issues, a senior State Department official told Labott.
Why did help arrive so late?
The United States offered assistance immediately after the mass abductions, but Nigeria turned it down until it became apparent that the situation needed a greater response, senior U.S. State Department officials told CNN.
Last week Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States has been engaged since Day One.
An explosive report Friday accused military commanders of knowing the terror group was headed to the school at least four hours in advance. However, the report said, they were unable to raise enough troops to respond.
The findings by human rights group Amnesty International mirror accounts by parents and villagers, who described to CNN an ineffective military response in the days and weeks after the abductions.
Nigeria’s information and defense ministries disputed the report.
The moment the Nigerian government heard of the kidnappings, “we went in to action,” Information Minister Labaran Maku said.
“We shouldn’t turn this into a trial of the Nigerian government.”
Journalist Aminu Abubakar reported from Kano, Nigeria, and CNN’s Faith Karimi and Michael Pearson reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Lillian Leposo, Vladimir Duthiers and Paul Cruikshank also contributed to this report.
Boko Haram offers to swap kidnapped Nigerian girls for prisoners
About 100 girls wearing full veils and praying are shown in an undisclosed location in a part of the 17-minute video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks. Boko Haram militants, who are fighting for an Islamist state, stormed a secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 and seized 276 girls who were taking exams. Some have since managed to escape, but about 200 remain missing. A government official said “all options” were being considered to secure the girls’ release. Nigeria has deployed two army divisions to hunt for the girls while several countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel and France, have offered help or sent experts. Nigerian authorities met with some of the experts on Monday and plan further meetings with the West African country’s defense and security agencies, a government statement said.
In a 1.25-minute segment of the YouTube video, scores of girls in black and grey veils sit on the ground, chant and sing. Then Shekau, wearing military fatigues and holding an AK-47, addresses the camera. He appears confident and at one point even laughs. “All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet (Mohammed) treated infidels and they will stay with us,” he said, according to a translation of his words originally spoken in a Nigerian language. “We will not release them while you detain our brothers,” he said, before naming a series of Nigerian cities.
It was not clear if he was in the same location as the girls, though the release of the video appeared to signal a willingness on his part to negotiate. Mike Omeri, a senior Ministry of Information official, told a news conference that the government has seen the latest video. “The government of Nigeria is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents,” he said.
The governor of Borno state, where the girls were abducted, said in a statement the video had been distributed to families and local schools in a bid to identify the girls shown. Security officials said on Monday five militants suspected in two car bombs that killed at least 90 people on April 14 and May 1 in the same suburb of the capital, Abuja, have been arrested. Nigeria has arrested hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants.
There have also been several jail break attempts. Suspected militants overpowered guards at a prison near the presidential villa in Abuja in March, triggering a gun battle that killed 21 people. In another incident the same month, insurgents attempting to free captured comrades fought a two-hour battle at Giwa barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. Human rights groups have said previously that Giwa barracks has been used to illegally detain and torture suspects, something the military denies. SUMMIT IN FRANCE The Nigerian government has been criticized for its response to the abductions, but President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday international military and intelligence assistance made him optimistic about finding the girls. A Nigerian military source told Reuters on Monday that two foreign counter-terrorism units were already on the ground.
“They have visited Chibok on Sunday for preliminary investigation with our troops and experts before fully kickstarting the rescue mission,” the source said. Jonathan will attend a summit in Paris on Saturday to discuss security in the region. On Monday, he visited the Republic of Congo for talks on the meeting with his opposite number. “The objective is to deepen the cooperation and partnership between Nigeria and her neighbors,” said Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati. Leaders from Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger are also due to attend along with representatives of the European Union, Britain and the United States.
The abductions have touched a chord worldwide and triggered a social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2009 and destabilized parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa’s largest population and biggest economy.
(Additional reporting by Isaac Abrak, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and John Irish in Paris; writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, editing by G Crosse)
Nigerian girl describes kidnap, 276 still missing
— May. 6, 2014 6:26 PM EDT