LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian Islamic extremist leader says nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls will not be seen again until the government frees his detained fighters.
A new video from Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network received Monday purports to show some of the girls and young women chanting Quranic verses in Arabic. The barefoot girls look frightened and sad and sit huddled together wearing gray Muslim veils. Some Christians among them say they have converted to Islam.
It is the first video evidence of the girls and young women since more than 300 were kidnapped from a northeastern school in the pre-dawn hours of April 15 – four weeks ago.
“I swear to almighty Allah you will not see them again until you release our people that you have captured,” 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. Hundreds were killed by soldiers last month when Shekau’s fighters stormed the military’s main northeastern barracks in Maiduguri city, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the headquarters of a year-old military state of emergency to put down the 5-year-old Islamic 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.
“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 whole body and the back of head but not the face.
A second girl, who looks in her mid-teens, was asked if the girls had been ill-treated in any way. She denied it, saying they experienced no harassment “except righteousness.”
Families have said most girls abducted are Christians.
In Chibok, the town from which they were stolen, parents were turning on a generator, hoping they can 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 of the girls, indicating they may have been broken up into smaller groups as some reports have indicated, Bitrus said.
Fifty-three escaped by themselves and 276 are missing, police say.