The identity of just who kidnapped more than three hundred schoolgirls in Nigeria finally became clear on Monday when a new video emerged of the leader of terrorist group Boko Haram admitting to the abduction.
“I abducted your girls,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in the video, according to news agency AFP. Shekau is said to have continued on to promise of the girls’ fate: “I will sell them in the market, by Allah.” Shekau also said in the video, according to AFP, that the outrage over the kidnapping is “because we are holding people [as] slaves.” AFP did not immediately make the video with Shekau’s comments available online for further analysis. A BBC translation of the video has the terrorist leader saying “the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married,” and directly quotes him as saying “God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions.”
In the weeks since the girls were originally kidnapped from their school in the village of Chibok, in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, most observers had concluded that Boko Haram were the likely culprits, but until now the group has remained silent on the girls’ plight. Local reports have indicated that several of the at least 276 still missing girls have been sold to their captors as child brides for the sum of 2,000 Nigerian naira — or $12 USD — a situation that Shekau’s comments appear to verify.
The Nigerian government’s search — or lack thereof — for the kidnapped girls has drawn attention over the last week as the families of the abuctees have launched protests demanding more action. That pressure has caused President Goodluck Jonathan to finally speak out on national television about the crisis. “We promise that wherever these girls are, we’ll surely get them out,” Johnathan said on Sunday night. “One good thing that made me happy and I believe most Nigerians are happy is that there is no story that any of them have been hurt in terms of injury or death.” The president had previously told a May Day rally “we must find our missing girls” and “the perpetrators must be brought to book.”
That same pressure now appears to have caused the detention of one of the leaders of the protest movement. Naomi Mutah Nyadar , one of the leaders of the protests and a representative of Chibok, met with Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan and was then taken to a police station, activists told the BBC. Saratu Angus Ndirpaya said the detention of herself and Nyadar took place after an all-night meeting with the first lady, during which she says Mrs. Johnathan accused the movement of fabricating the abductions to tarnish her husband’s image. Ayo Adewuyi, a spokesperson for the first lady, however, told AP journalists: “The first lady did not order the arrest of anybody, and I’m sure of that.”
The tense situation in Nigeria goes beyond the capture of the schoolgirls. Boko Haram — whose name roughly translates to mean “western education is sinful” and has referred to itself as the “Nigerian Taliban” — has proven itself to be a nightmarish security challenge for the government. On the one hand, the tactics that the group has undertaken in its desire to spread a radical form of Islam within Nigeria have been brutal and heinous. In recent weeks and months, the terrorist group has launched numerous attacks against mosques, churches, government facilities, and schools causing as many as 1,500 deaths in the process this year alone. Boko Haram has also taken credit for recent bombings in the capital, Abuja, thought to be outside the zone of conflict in the north.
But in their now frequent offensives against Boko Haram, human rights groups say, the government has been extremely heavy-handed in their pursuit. Security forces have “allegedly engaged in excessive use of force and other human rights violations, such as burning homes, physical abuse, and extrajudicial killings,” according to a Human Rights Watch report. Amnesty International in March accused the army of killing some 600 people, mostly former detainees who were rounded up following a Boko Haram attack on army barracks.
Despite those troubling indications of possible abuses from the Nigerian army, he United States has pledged over the last week to back the Nigerian government’s search for the girls. “The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech in Ethiopia over the weekend.
According to a senior State Department official, the assistance currently being undertaken is not of the technical variety directly related to the kidnapping, but instead is focused on broader counterterrorism aid. “Next week we will have a team going in to again consult with them on how we might be helpful,” the official told reporters during a background briefing on Saturday. “We have some experience in that having gone through our own terrorist attacks during 9/11 where we weren’t able to communicate with each other. So we want to share with them that experience and help them address some of their communication gaps, some of their inability to gather intelligence.”
This post has been updated to include more of Shekau’s comments.