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Nigerian schoolgirl who escaped Boko Haram abduction recounts terror

“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me. Now I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me,” said Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old student who escaped from the terrorists in Chibok.

Churchgoers sing at the Evangelical Church of West Africa church in Abuja on May 11, 2014. In churches across the nation, Nigerians prayed for the safe return of the 276 girls still held captive by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Joe Penney/Reuters
Churchgoers sing at the Evangelical Church of West Africa church in Abuja on May 11, 2014. In churches across the nation, Nigerians prayed for the safe return of the 276 girls still held captive by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Joe Penney/Reuters

BAUCHI, Nigeria // One of the schoolgirls who escaped from Boko Haram said the kidnapping was “too terrifying for words”, and is now scared to go back to school.

Sarah Lawan, 19, a science student, spoke out on Sunday as Nigerians prayed for the safety of the 276 students still held captive. Their prayers were joined by Pope Francis.

Sarah said more of the girls could have escaped but that they were frightened by their captors’ threats to shoot them.

She spoke from Chibok, her home and the site of the abduction in north-east Nigeria. The failure to rescue those who remain captive four weeks later has attracted mounting national and international outrage. Last week, Nigeria was forced to accept international help in the search, after ignoring offers for weeks.

More experts were expected in Nigeria to help in the search, including US hostage negotiators and others from Britain, France, China and Spain.

“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me,” Sarah said. “Now I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me.”

Police say 53 students have escaped. Boko Haram is threatening to sell those who remain in captivity into slavery.

In churches across the nation, Nigerians prayed for the girls, whose plight has brought together ordinary people in a year that had seen growing dissension between Muslims and Christians, disagreements exacerbated by the increasingly deadly attacks of the Boko Haram terrorist network. Africa’s most populous nation of 170 million has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.

The Rev Stephen Omale prayed at a church in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, for God to visit a change of heart of the girls’ abductors.

“Wherever they are, God will bring them out in his own mercy, he will see that they are brought out safely, without harm and also that this act will bring an end to all those who are perpetrating these acts.”

Britain, Nigeria’s former coloniser, has said it hopes to help not just in rescuing the girls but in the wider conflict to halt the 5-year-old Islamist uprising in which thousands of Muslims and Christians have been killed and some 750,000 people driven from their homes.

A Nigerian security expert warned meanwhile that the militants may have laid landmines to discourage any pursuit, and said strategists may be considering starving them out.

“They may have laid landmines, one cannot rule that out,” the formed Nigerian air force commodore Darlington Abdullah said. And “even as they go along abducting children, they are also going after food, grabbing food,” Commodore Abdullah said, suggesting that starvation might force the extremists to abandon the girls.

Also Sunday, a leading Nigerian rights group demanded the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Boko Haram, saying expressions of concern and condemnation are not enough.

“The future of these missing schoolgirls hangs in a balance. The council should not leave them to fend for themselves,” the executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said.

* Associated Press