LAGOS, Nigeria — The girls in the school dorm heard the sound of gunshots from a nearby town. So, when armed men in uniforms burst in and promised to rescue them, at first they were relieved.
“Don’t worry, we’re soldiers,” one 16-year-old girl recalls them saying. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”
The gunmen commanded the hundreds of students at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School to gather outside. The men went into a storeroom and removed all the food. Then, they set fire to the room.
“They ... started shouting, ‘Allahu Akhbar,’ (God is great),” the 16-year-old student said. “And we knew.”
What they knew was chilling: The men were not government soldiers at all. They were members of the ruthless Islamic extremist group called Boko Haram. They kidnapped the entire group of girls and drove them away in pickup trucks into the dense forest.
Three weeks later, 276 girls are still missing. At least two have died of snakebite, and about 20 others are ill, according to an intermediary who is in touch with their captors.
Their plight — and the failure of the Nigerian military to find them — has drawn international attention to an escalating Islamic extremist insurrection that has killed more than 1,500 so far this year. Boko Haram, the name means “Western education is sinful,” has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping and threatened to sell the girls. The claim was made in a video seen Monday.
Amid growing outrage at the girls’ prolonged captivity, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday announced that he has accepted a U.S. offer to help in the search, including security personnel and unidentified assets.
The British government has also expressed concern over the fate of the missing students, and protests have erupted in major Nigerian cities and New York.
There were reports that eight children were kidnapped Sunday from a school in Borno state. The Borno state police commissioner dismissed them, saying, “That’s not true. There’s no new kidnapping.”