x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Boko Haram releases new video claiming to show Nigeria’s abducted schoolgirls

A 17-minute video of the group's leader Abubakar Shekau shows what he said were the girls praying in an undisclosed rural location.

A screengrab from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, obtained by AFP, shows some of the kidnapped girls wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, claims the girls had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed. AFP Photo
A screengrab from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, obtained by AFP, shows some of the kidnapped girls wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, claims the girls had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed. AFP Photo

LAGOS // Boko Haram released a new video on Monday claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, alleged they had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed.

The 17-minute video obtained by AFP showed what he said were about 130 of the girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location.

A total of 276 girls were abducted on April 14 from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community.

Some 223 are still missing.

The footage shows about 130 girls in black and grey full-length hijabs sitting on scrubland near trees, reciting the first chapter of the Quran, and holding their palms upwards in prayer.

Three of the girls were interviewed in the video.

Two say they were Christian and had converted while one said she was Muslim. Most of the group were seated.

The girls appeared calm and one said they had not been harmed.

There was no indication of when the video was taken, although the quality is better than on previous occasions.

At one point an armed man was seen with a hand-held video camera.

Boko Haram has been waging an increasingly deadly insurgency in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north since 2009, attacking schools teaching a “Western” curriculum, churches and government targets.

Civilians, though, have borne the brunt of recent violence, with more than 1,500 killed this year alone while tens of thousands have been displaced after their homes and businesses were razed.

Nigeria’s government has been criticised for its lack of immediate response to the kidnapping but has been forced to act after Shekau threatened to sell the girls as slaves.

President Goodluck Jonathan has now accepted help from the United States, Britain, France, China and Israel, which have sent specialist teams to help in the search effort.

In the video, Shekau appears in front of a lime green canvas backdrop wearing combat fatigues and carrying an automatic weapon. He did not appear in the same shot as the girls at any point during the video.

Speaking in Hausa and Arabic, he restates his claim of responsibility made in a video released last Monday and said the girls had converted to Islam.

“These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. We have indeed liberated them. Do you know we have liberated them? These girls have become Muslims,” he said.

The militant leader said that Boko Haram’s brothers in arms had been held in prison for up to five years and suggested that the girls would be released if the fighters were freed.

“We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren. Here I mean those girls who have not submitted (converted to Islam),” he added.

Boko Haram has used kidnapping of women and young girls in the past and Shekau indicated that more were being held.

Eleven girls were abducted from the Gwoza area of Borno state on May 4.

*AFP