Nigerian Schoolgirls

Boko Haram

A group of Boko Haram members, their faces hidden behind camouflage.

Since a group of over 300 Nigerian Christian schoolgirls were captured by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, the whole world has been watching to see what happens next.  A recent video released by the group shows more than 100 of these schoolgirls, all dressed in traditional Islamic garb, praying to Allah, as well as the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.  The leader is apparently in negotiations with the government, and claims that he will hold the girls until imprisoned militants are freed.

Three of the girls in the group are seen speaking in the video; all of them claim that they are now Muslim.  In the video, Shekau claimed that he has “liberated” the girls, and that they converted to Islam, although the nature of this conversion remains debatable.  The majority of the abducted girls are believed to be Christians, although there are a few Muslims among them.  The video was received today by the Associated Press, and came through channels that have previously provided messages from Shekau.  It’s the first sighting of these girls since they were taken nearly a month ago from their school in Northern Nigeria.  Even though more than 50 of the girls escaped their captors and are now safe, the fate of 276 others remains unknown.

The search for the schoolgirls has centered on the Sambisa forest.  Nigerian troops are aided by American, British and French advisers, while Chad, Cameroon and Niger are contributing satellite imagery.  Over the weekend, Israel offered to assist in the search.  The Nigerian government has apparently made “indirect contact” with the terrorists; Nigeria has refused to pay for the girls’ release, believing that the sale of human beings is a “crime against humanity”.  People from around the world have been critical of Nigeria’s handling of the situation; according to Amnesty International, Nigerian security forces were aware that a group of Boko Haram fighters were approaching the school a few hours before the kidnapping occurred, but nonetheless did nothing.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly equates to “Western education is forbidden”, has killed some 1,500 people in Nigeria so far this year.  They have been waging an insurgency across Nigeria for the past five years.  The search for the girls was made difficult thanks to the lack of information on the girls’ whereabouts; there is speculation that they have been split into four groups, and some are believed to have been taken across Nigeria’s border.  In an effort to stop searchers from finding the girls, militants have probably laid booby traps and land mines.  In the past week, two bridges that cross Nigeria’s borders with Chad and Cameroon have been destroyed as well.