Three weeks ago, over two hundred girls between ages 15 and 18 were kidnapped from their boarding school in northern Nigeria. Yesterday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he threatened, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”
The girls, who are not shown in the video, had returned to their school in Chibok, Borno State in northern Nigeria to take their final exams before they were kidnapped. Schools in the region had been closed earlier in the year in reaction to the uptick in Boko Haram-perpetrated violence.
In the nighttime attack on April 14, gunmen stormed the Government Girls Secondary School and loaded the students into a convoy comprised of some 60 vehicles, including 40 motorcycles. The girls were reportedly taken into a Boko Haram stronghold in the Sambisa forest where the group has fortified camps. Nigerian security forces have been unable to locate and rescue the victims.
The kidnapping occurred on the same day that Boko Haram bombed a bus station in Abuja, killing 75 people.
Exposing the Nigerian government’s inability to tackle the problems presented by Boko Haram, there has been confusion as to how many girls were kidnapped. A Nigerian military official commented in an official briefing on April 16 that most of the girls had been freed with eight remaining in Boko Haram’s custody. Borno State’s police chief has since stated that around 223 girls were still missing, while 53 are believed to have escaped.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States in November 2013. Shekau and two al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram leaders were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012.
In its annual assessment of global trends in terrorism released last week, the US State Department noted that the government of Nigeria has “made little progress” in addressing the grievances of Nigeria’s northern population. It advised the Nigerian government “to employ a more comprehensive strategy to address Boko Haram that combines security efforts with political and development efforts to reduce Boko Haram’s appeal, address the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Nigeria, and protect the rights of all of Nigeria’s citizens.”
On May 3, US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged American support to aid the Nigerian government to return the girls to their families. However, it is not clear what the support will entail.