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‘I abducted your girls,’ Nigerian Islamist leader reportedly says in video

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The French news agency Agence France-Presse says it has obtained a video in which a leader of a militant Islamist group claims credit for abducting 276 Nigerian schoolgirls. It’s been assumed that the group, Boko Haram, was responsible but until Monday there had been no claim made. There was no immediate independent verification of the video.

According to AFP:

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed to sell hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in northern Nigeria three weeks ago, in a new video obtained on Monday by AFP. ‘I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,’ he said, after reports that some of the 223 girls still missing may have been sold as brides across Nigeria’s border with Chad and Cameroon for as little as $12. Shekau added that the abduction had caused outrage ‘because we are holding people (as) slaves.’

In a related development, the Associated Press and the BBC said that police acting on the orders of Nigeria’s first lady, Patience Jonathan, arrested  leaders of the movement protesting what they see as the government’s disinterest in tracking down the girls.

A leader of a protest march for the missing schoolgirls says Nigeria’s first lady abused them, expressed doubts there was any kidnapping and accused them of belonging to the network blamed for the abductions. Then she ordered two of them arrested, the AP reported.

Saratu Angus Ndirpaya of Chibok town said State Security Service agents drove her and protest leader Naomi Mutah Nyadar to a police station Monday after an all-night meeting at the presidential villa in Abuja, the capital. She said Nyadar remains in detention. Police could not be reached for comment.

Ndirpaya says Patience Jonathan accused them of fabricating the abductions to give Nigeria’s government and her husband “a bad name.”

Three weeks have now passed since dozens of heavily armed men descended upon a darkened dormitory where hundreds of Nigerian girls slept, abducted them and disappeared into the night. Three weeks since authorities erroneously stated that only 100 Chibok girls were missing — when in fact it was 276. And three weeks since hundreds of parents last saw their children, since they’ve launched protests that have swept a nation, since some of the girls were reportedly sold for $12 and vanished.

Nigerian President Jonathan, who has taken sweeping criticism for what some have perceived as disregard for the crisis, addressed concerns on Sunday. “Wherever these girls are, we’ll get them out,” Jonathan said, adding that officials had no idea where they were.

Then he proceeded to criticize parents for not being forthright with police. “What we request is maximum cooperation from the guardians and the parents of these girls. Because up to this time, they have not been able to come clearly, to give the police clear identity of the girls that have yet to return,” he said.

The events illustrated an escalating clash between a protest movement and a government many say has been feckless in its pursuit of the children. Adding to that tension is dismay that the government seems to have no idea where the girls are — because Village elder Pogo Bitrus told The Washington Post it’s clear to locals.

“Some of them have been taken to the northern part of the state, and these are the ones with the bad experiences in the mass marriages,” Bitrus explained on Monday morning while waiting for a protester at an Abuja police station, who he claims was “detained for no reason.”

“But the bulk of them are kept in the Sambisa Forest,” Bitrus said. “It’s not too far from where the girls were abducted and where the majority of the escapees are from.”

While many in the West have expressed outrage at the abductions — there were weekend protests in London and Los Angeles — Bitrus conveyed resignation. “The government is slow and it is unfortunate, but this is the Nigerian attitude. This is not the West. If it was, someone would have resigned or been thrown out, but the whole thing is different here. And we must accommodate whatever.”

On April 14, the girls were believed to have been captured by murderously violent militants belonging to Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful.” Since 2010, the group has carried out a vicious campaign against education, which it blames for many of the problems in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation. According to some estimates, the group has killed as many as 2,300 people. This year, more than 1,500 have died in regular bouts of ethnic violence, and the government has at times appeared powerless to stop the bloodletting.

Today, it’s unclear which side has control over Nigeria’s northern states — the government, or Boko Haram. Some of the girls, though Bitrus says it’s unclear how many, have been taken into Cameroon and Chad and have since disappeared.

This reality has made some in Nigeria lose faith in the military, and question whether it can monitor the girls’ movements, let alone rescue them. “The free movement of the kidnappers in huge convoys with their captives for two weeks without being traced by the military, which claims to be working diligently to free the girls, is unbelievable,” Bitrus said.

Still, there was reason for optimism, he said. This isn’t the first time Boko Haram has kidnapped girls. But it is one of the first times, if not the first, that it’s attracted such global attention.

“This has been a tradition of Boko Haram,” he said. “This is not starting now. It has just ever been heard of before. … But with this pressure, they’ll be released very soon.”

And if not? “The Boko Haram is known to be so vicious, so ruthless,” he said. “They don’t value life. They are people who blow themselves up. They are capable of doing anything.”