Nigerian Islamist group kidnaps eight more girls

200 girls abducted by Boko Haram from a secondary school on April 14th

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility yesterday for the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria last month and threatened to "sell them on the market". Video: Reuters


Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls aged 12 to 15 from a village near one of their strongholds in northeast Nigeria overnight, police and residents said today.

“They were many, and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army colour. They started shooting in our village,“ said Lazarus Musa, a resident of Warabe, where the attack happened.

A police source, who could not be named, said the girls were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food. The Islamist rebels are still holding more than 200 girls they abducted from a secondary school on April 14th.

In a video message apparently made by the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls nearly three weeks ago, called them slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market, by Allah.”

“Western education should end,” Shekau said in the 57-minute video, speaking in Hausa and Arabic. “Girls, you should go and get married.”

The Islamist leader also warned that he would “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of nine. We would marry them out at the age of 12.”

The message was received by news agencies in Nigeria today and is similar to previous videos purportedly from Boko Haram.

It is the first time the group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, which have gripped Nigeria, ignited a rare anti-government protest movement and embarrassed the government of president Goodluck Jonathan, who has so far been unable to rescue any of the teenage girls.

They were abducted from their school in a remote corner of northeastern Nigeria on April 14th. By some counts 276 remain missing.

The kidnappings are the latest assault by Boko Haram, which has committed dozens of massacres of civilians in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria’s north with the aim of destabilizing and ultimately overthrowing the Nigerian government.

Earlier this year, for instance, more than 50 teenage boys were slaughtered - some burned alive - at a government school in the north. That attack, like many others, was quickly forgotten in Nigeria and barely noticed outside of it.

But the kidnappings of the girls have attracted rare international attention, with foreign governments weighing in.

Obama administration officials said today that the United States had offered intelligence and information sharing to the Nigerian authorities, although they declined to specify what federal agency or agencies were helping to locate the missing girls.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters at a daily briefing that US officials had indications that many of the girls had “likely been moved out of the country to neighboring countries at this point.” She declined to specify which countries.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said that president Barack Obama had been briefed several times on the abductions and that the State Department had been “in regular touch with the Nigerian government about what we might do to help support its efforts to find and free these young women.”

Britain has offered assistance to Nigeria to help respond to the kidnapping. The Nigerian government’s helplessness so far - the army first claimed to have rescued the girls, then retracted the claim - has shaken Jonathan’s administration, and the president has spoken of reaching out to other governments, including the United States, for help, a rare admission of incapacity for a Nigerian leader.

In a vivid demonstration of how sensitive the issue has become for the government, two women protesting its response to the kidnappings were arrested today after a meeting in Abuja, the capital, with the wife of the president, according to leaders of the protest movement. The country is preparing to host a major economic summit meeting this week, making the unresolved kidnappings all the more embarrassing for officials there.

Last week, protesters marched on the country’s National Assembly in Abuja, and it was leaders of those marches who apparently angered Patience Jonathan, the wife of the president. Patience Jonathan had invited mothers of the abducted girls to come to Abuja from Chibok, the remote northeastern town where the girls were seized, according to Hadiza Bala Usman, the organizer of the protests. But the “timeline was too short,” Usman said - there are no flights, and Chibok is several days’ journey by road.

The mothers from Chibok “delegated the responsibility” of meeting with Ms Jonathan to neighbors who were already in Abuja. But when the president’s wife discovered that the women with whom she met were not mothers of the missing girls, she became enraged, according to Usman and Dr. Pogu Bitrus, a Chibok official who knows both women.

Ms Jonathan told the women, “You lied to us by saying you are a mother,” according to Usman. “Because of that we are detaining you.”

Dr Bitrus said that Patience Jonathan “ordered that they be arrested for impersonation.”

A spokesman for the president, Reuben Abati, could not be reached today. A spokesman for Patience Jonathan was quoted in news reports as denying that anybody had been arrested.

The message from the Boko Haram leader once again highlighted the extent to which secular, Western-style schools are a principal target of the group, whose name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden,” in an amalgam of pidgin English, Arabic and Hausa, one of the most commonly spoken languages in Africa. Shekau emphasized that the girls were taken because they were attending such a school.

“Western education is sin, it is forbidden, women must go and marry,” he said in the video message. Shekau also tried to justify the abduction of the girls by noting that Boko Haram members remain imprisoned in Nigeria.

The New York Times