The Islamist militant group Boko Haram on Monday claimed responsibility for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria last month and threatened to sell them, while protesters continued to press the government to rescue them.
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in the video, according to the French news agency AFP.
Boko Haram on April 14 stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Borno state, then packed the teenagers onto trucks and disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon.
The militants kidnapped more than 300 teens, Nigerian police sources previously had indicated. Of those, 53 reportedly escaped and 276 still are captive. An intermediary for Boko Haram said two of the captives have died of snakebites and 20 are ill, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
The teens’ abductions have embarrassed the government and threaten to overshadow its first hosting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa. The three-day gathering is scheduled to open on Wednesday.
Nigerian officials had hoped the event would highlight their country’s potential as an investment destination since it became Africa’s biggest economy after a GDP recalculation in March.
Protest leader arrested
On Sunday, authorities arrested a leader of a protest staged last week in Abuja that had called on them to do more to find the girls. The arrest has further fuelled outrage against the security forces.
Naomi Mutah Nyadar was picked up by police after she and other demonstrators met with President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience, concerning the girls.
Nyadar was taken to Asokoro police station, near the presidential villa, said fellow protester Lawan Abana, whose two nieces are among the abductees.
Police were not immediately available to comment on the incident, but a presidential source said Nyadar had been detained because she had falsely claimed to be the mother of a missing girls. Abana denied making the claim.
In a statement, Patience Jonathan denied local media reports that she had ordered Nyadar’s arrest, the state-owned News Agency of Nigeria said.
She also urged protesters in Abuja to go home.
“You are playing games. Don’t use school children and women for demonstrations again. Keep it to Borno, let it end there,” the agency quoted her as saying.
More protests were planned for Monday. These could become a major headache for the government if they continue during the WEF event, where security arrangements will involve some 6,000 army troops.
On Sunday, Nigeria’s president said the government was doing everything possible to rescue the girls but admitted he didn’t know where they were.
“Let me reassure the parents and guardians that we will get their daughters out,” President Goodluck Jonathan said.
Unconfirmed reports say some of the girls have been “married” to their captors, while others allegedly have been moved across the border into Cameroon and Chad.
Boko Haram, now considered the main security threat to Africa’s leading energy producer, is growing bolder and extending its reach. The kidnapping occurred on the same day as a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, that killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja and marked the first attack on the capital in two years.
The militants, who say they are fighting to reinstate a mediaeval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, repeated that bomb attack more than two weeks later in almost exactly the same spot, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.