By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG — Nigerian parents of more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram desperately scanned a video Tuesday released by the Islamist group in search of their daughters’ faces. One mother recognized her child; many others did not.
U.S. aircraft began flying missions over northeastern Nigeria trying to trace the girls, according to The Associated Press. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan asked parliament to extend a state of emergency in the area.
Nigeria has been grappling for years without success with the insurgents, who seek to impose Shariah law in the country’s northeast.
Nigerian media reported that some parents raised doubts about the video released by the insurgents on Monday, saying some of those pictured in long dark hijabs didn’t look like teenage students but appeared to be in their 30s and 40s.
Mallam Zannah Chibok told Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper that he could not identify his kidnapped daughters in the video, which appears to show just over 100 girls. The newspaper cited several other parents, who did not give their names, who also did not see their children on the video.
But Dumoma Mpur, chairman of the parent-teachers association of the school in Chibok where the girls were kidnapped, told Reuters news service that one mother recognized her child.
The girls were shown praying in the video, and two said they had converted to Islam from Christianity.
In the video, insurgent leader Abubakar Shekau said he was willing to exchange some of the girls for Boko Haram prisoners held by Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has said it will do everything necessary to free the girls without specifying whether it would be willing to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the group, which is designated a terror organization by the U.S. government.
Parents of the girls have complained that Nigerian security forces didn’t act on their reports identifying the location where the gunmen were holding the girls in the days after the April 14 kidnapping.
It took weeks for Jonathan to respond to the abduction — and then only after the start of an international Twitter campaign under the hashtag “BringBackOurGirls.” The campaign had been supported by President Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and celebrities such as Mia Farrow and Angelina Jolie.
Some argue that a prisoner exchange would only encourage further abductions. But it would be difficult for security forces to rescue the prisoners without risking high casualties, leaving Jonathan’s government in an awkward position.
In the video, Shekau said he carried out the kidnappings in retaliation for the imprisonment of Boko Haram members and detention of women and children associated with the group. He said the militant group was holding many other people but gave no number.
“There are some of my brethren who have spent five complete years without seeing their wives, without seeing their children. For God’s sake, even for ensuring their release, will I not kidnap? After all God says I should kidnap,” Shekau said in the video.
“You that seized and detained my brethren for five years, you arrested and kept a woman without getting married for four, five years. You seized and hold our children. You did all this to us and today, because we did what God already told us to do, you are busy making noise, ‘Shekau has kidnapped this and that, he said he would sell.’ Yes, I will sell.
“I will sell. Those of them that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers. They are staying with us. We will never release them until our brethren are released.”
©afp.com / Robert MacPherson