- (Photo: Reuters/Gaia Squarci)
Some of the Nigerian girls who managed to escape after armed men from the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped them last month shared their stories, while the governor of the state where the incident took place says more than 200 girls still captive have been "sighted."
On the night of April 14-15, the gunmen commanded the hundreds of students at the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok in eastern Borno State to gather outside, and then they went into a storeroom and took all the food.
"They then moved all of us to the main gate and brought their cars where they loaded the food they had taken and asked us to get in," one of the girls was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera. "The girls that had no shoes on and were not wearing veils were told to go and fetch them as they started to set the school on fire."
Police say 53 girls managed to escape.
"I told my friend that it is better to be killed than to be taken to a place that we did not know," another girl was quoted as saying, about how she and her friend ran for their lives.
Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old student, told The Associated Press that most girls made no attempt to escape as the gunmen had threatened to shoot them. "I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me," she said. "Now I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me."
Lawan also said she's been told by other girls who escaped later that the captors spoke of their plans to marry them.
"I am really scared to go back there; but I have no option if I am asked to go because I need to finish my final year exams which were stopped half way through," she added.
"We would rather go than die," one of the girls told CNN. "We ran into the bush. We ran and we ran."
It is not clear exactly how many girls were kidnapped, and how many remain captive. Reports suggest more than 300 had been abducted and about 276 are still with Boko Haram men.
Borno Governor Kashim Shettima said Sunday he has information on the whereabouts of the girls, and passed it on to the military for verification, BBC reported. He said the girls have likely not been taken across the border to Chad or Cameroon.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan sent Saturday two army divisions to the border regions close to Chad, Cameroon and Niger to work with other security agencies.
The government has been criticized for its slow and inadequate response.
Meanwhile, a Christian pastor, the Rev. Enoch Mark, whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, told AP that the girls were camped near the Chibok town for 11 days. "For a good 11 days, our daughters were sitting in one place. They camped them near Chibok, not more than 30 kilometres, and no help in hand," he said, suggesting the military had a chance to rescue the girls but they missed it.
CNN reports that villagers began to receive cell phone calls that the feared extremist group Boko Haram was on the way on the day of the incident.
"It's like they were coming for a shopping trip," a villager who witnessed the attack was quoted as saying.
Villagers told local police that there was a convoy of cargo trucks, pickups and motorcycles heading their way. But no reinforcements came. Even police reportedly fled into the bush during the attack.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened to sell the girls "in the market."
"I abducted your girls," Shekau said in a 57-minute video obtained by Agence France Presse. "I abducted a girl at a western education school and you are disturbed. I said western education should end. Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married. I will repeat this: western education should fold up. I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine."
Churches across Nigeria prayed for the girls on Sunday.
"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," AP quoted the Rev. Stephen Omale as praying at a church in Abuja.
Boko Haram, which translates as "Western education is sin," has killed more than 1,500 civilians in three states in northeast Nigeria thus far this year.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has assured all help. "We're going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government," he told ABC's "This Week" Sunday.
Officials from the U.S., the UK, France and China are in Nigeria to help the government plan rescue missions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered help.
Boko Haram is designated as a foreign terrorist organization in the United States and the European Union.
The terror outfit was formed by an Islamic cleric, Mohammad Yusuf, about a decade ago to fight Western education, which he claimed was behind moral and political corruption in the country. Yusuf was from the Salafi movement, which has promoted jihadist terrorism in several countries.
Thousands of people have died in attacks since Boko Haram's insurrection began in 2009.
Boko Haram has also killed numerous Christians and attacked several churches. It is apparently seeking to create an Islamic state in the Muslim-majority northern Nigeria. It is believed that it gained technical sophistication and weaponry with help from groups like al-Shabaab in southern Somalia and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali.