In a video released today, the world got its first glimpse of approximately 100 of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls whose kidnapping has finally gained international attention.
Over 300 girls were kidnapped from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok on April 14. Police said that 53 of the girls escaped by themselves and 276 are missing, according to The Associated Press. In a rambling video released last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the abduction and threatened to sell the girls “in the market.”
In the latest video, Shekau claims the girls have converted to Islam and offers to free them in exchange for members of the militant Islamist group held by Nigerian authorities.
The girls, covered in hijabs, can be seen praying in an unidentified location about 18 minutes into the video. Three girls are interviewed on camera — two of them saying they were Christian and had converted to Islam, and one saying she was Muslim.
One of the girls says that they have not been harmed.
“All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet treated infidels, and they will stay with us," Shekaku said in the video, speaking in a mix of Hausa and Arabic. "We will not release them while you detain our brothers."
Nigerian authorities rejected the prison swap proposal, AFP reported.
The mass abduction has sparked angry protests in Nigeria, where demonstrators led mainly by women rallied against the government’s passive response to the crisis. President Goodluck Jonathan took weeks to even acknowledge the crisis, while his wife accused protesters demanding the girls' release of being Boko Haram members.
After being initially ignored, the girls' abduction went viral across the world — thanks to the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The hashtag has been tweeted more than two million times, according to Brandwatch, a social media analytics platform, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai driving much attention to the issue.
But critics have pointed out that the global indignation — reminiscent of the viral Kony 2012 campaign — did little to help the girls, or advance the conversation about Boko Haram’s insurgency in Nigeria, which regularly targets schools and has caused more than 1,500 deaths since the beginning of the year.
Governments have also pitched in. On May 9 a team of US personnel arrived in Nigeria to aide in the rescue. The UK, France, and Israel have also offered to help.
But critics have cautioned against Western countries' involvement, and accused Nigerian authorities of widespread abuse in their efforts to quell the insurgency.
“If Nigeria doesn't change its counter-Boko Haram tactics, techniques, and procedures,” security analyst and expert on African conflicts Lesley Anne Warner wrote in a series of Twitter comments last week, “the US could taint itself by association with Nigeria's human rights violations.”
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi