Boko Haram offers to swap kidnapped Nigerian girls for prisoners

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria Mon May 12, 2014 7:46pm EDT

1 of 7. People demand for the release of 200 secondary school girls abducted in the remote village of Chibok, during a protest at Unity Park in Abuja May 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Penney

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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his fighters last month in exchange for its prisoners, according to a video posted on YouTube on Monday.

About 100 girls wearing full veils and praying are shown in an undisclosed location in a part of the 17-minute video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks.

Boko Haram militants, who are fighting for an Islamist state, stormed a secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 and seized 276 girls who were taking exams. Some have since managed to escape, but about 200 remain missing.

A government official said "all options" were being considered to secure the girls' release.

Nigeria has deployed two army divisions to hunt for the girls while several countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel and France, have offered help or sent experts.

Nigerian authorities met with some of the experts on Monday and plan further meetings with the West African country's defense and security agencies, a government statement said.

In a 1.25-minute segment of the YouTube video, scores of girls in black and grey veils sit on the ground, chant and sing. Then Shekau, wearing military fatigues and holding an AK-47, addresses the camera. He appears confident and at one point even laughs.

"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 (Mohammed) treated infidels and they will stay with us," he said, according to a translation of his words originally spoken in a Nigerian language.

"We will not release them while you detain our brothers," he said, before naming a series of Nigerian cities. It was not clear if he was in the same location as the girls, though the release of the video appeared to signal a willingness on his part to negotiate.

Mike Omeri, a senior Ministry of Information official, told a news conference that the government has seen the latest video.

"The government of Nigeria is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents," he said.

The governor of Borno state, where the girls were abducted, said in a statement the video had been distributed to families and local schools in a bid to identify the girls shown.

Security officials said on Monday five militants suspected in two car bombs that killed at least 90 people on April 14 and May 1 in the same suburb of the capital, Abuja, have been arrested. Nigeria has arrested hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants.

There have also been several jail break attempts. Suspected militants overpowered guards at a prison near the presidential villa in Abuja in March, triggering a gun battle that killed 21 people.

In another incident the same month, insurgents attempting to free captured comrades fought a two-hour battle at Giwa barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Human rights groups have said previously that Giwa barracks has been used to illegally detain and torture suspects, something the military denies.

SUMMIT IN FRANCE

The Nigerian government has been criticized for its response to the abductions, but President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday international military and intelligence assistance made him optimistic about finding the girls.

A Nigerian military source told Reuters on Monday that two foreign counter-terrorism units were already on the ground.

"They have visited Chibok on Sunday for preliminary investigation with our troops and experts before fully kickstarting the rescue mission," the source said.

Jonathan will attend a summit in Paris on Saturday to discuss security in the region. On Monday, he visited the Republic of Congo for talks on the meeting with his opposite number.

"The objective is to deepen the cooperation and partnership between Nigeria and her neighbors," said Jonathan's spokesman Reuben Abati.

Leaders from Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger are also due to attend along with representatives of the European Union, Britain and the United States.

The abductions have touched a chord worldwide and triggered a social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2009 and destabilized parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa's largest population and biggest economy.

(Additional reporting by Isaac Abrak, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and John Irish in Paris; writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, editing by G Crosse)

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Comments (22)
Rhoman wrote:
People deserve the government they get. Nigerians settle for Goodluck Jonathan. And the rest of us settle for such as the soulless representatives of a World Economic Forum, meeting for money in the midst of a nations pain. As long as money makes the world go round, we all deserve the world we have.

May 11, 2014 11:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reality2Day wrote:
After all the attacks and killings in that region President Jonathan sends two army divisions to help find the girls, most likely because the attention of the world is focused on them/him and he wants to save face. More should have been before this happened.

May 12, 2014 2:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
willich6 wrote:
Nothing good comes from ‘negotiating’ with terrorists. You may, and I repeat may, get these 200 young girls back, but they will get 100′s of hardened fighters out of prison and will quickly be able to take another 200 or 2000 more hostages..
There is only 1 way to deal with vermin – exterminate them… Freedom isn’t free..

May 12, 2014 8:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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