LAGOS, Nigeria — An Islamist extremist leader says nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls will not be seen again until the Nigerian government frees his detained fighters.
A video from Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network that was received Monday purports to show some of the girls and young women chanting Koranic verses in Arabic. The barefoot girls look frightened and sad and sit huddled together wearing gray Islamic veils.
Some Christians among them say they have converted to Islam.
If confirmed, this would be the first video evidence of the girls and young women since more than 300 were kidnapped from a northeastern school in the predawn hours of April 15.
“I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see them again until you release our people that you have captured,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says as he cradles an assault rifle in the video.
It is not known how many suspected Boko Haram members are detained by security forces. Soldiers killed hundreds last month when Shekau’s fighters stormed the military’s main northeastern barracks in Maiduguri, a city that is the group’s birthplace and the headquarters of a year-old military offensive to put down the five-year-old Islamist uprising.
In the video, two of the girls are brought to the front and questioned by an unseen man.
“Why have you become a Muslim?” the man asks one of them.
“The reason why I became a Muslim is because the path we are on is not the right path,” the girl says, nervously turning her body from side to side, her eyes darting off to the side. “We should enter the right path so that Allah will be happy with us.”
She looks to be in her early teens. She says her real name has been changed to Halima since she converted from Christianity to Islam. Like the other girls, she is wearing a hijab, a piece of cloth that covers the head but not the face.
The second girl, who looks to be in her mid-teens, is asked whether the girls have been ill-treated in any way. She denies it, saying they have experienced no harassment “except righteousness.”
Families have said most of the girls abducted are Christians.
In Chibok, the town from which they were taken, parents were turning on a generator, hoping they could watch the video and identify their daughters, said one of the town’s civil leaders, Pogu Bitrus.
“There’s an atmosphere of hope, hope that these girls are alive, whether they have been forced to convert to Islam or not,” he told the Associated Press by telephone. “We want to be able to say, ‘These are our girls.’ ”
The video shows about 100 girls, suggesting that the abducted schoolgirls may have been broken up into smaller groups, as some reports have indicated, Bitrus said.
Police have said 53 girls escaped by themselves and 276 are missing.