In the presidential weekly address on Mother's Day weekend, the first lady, Michelle Obama, said she and her husband are "outraged and heartbroken" over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls in "whom Barack and I see our own daughters."
"Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night," the first lady said Saturday.
On the night of April 14-15, armed men from the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, which is opposed to Westernization of Nigeria, kidnapped about 276 girls, including Christians, from a government school in the town of Chibok in eastern Borno State.
"In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now," Michelle Obama said.
Calling it an "unconscionable act … to keep these girls from getting an education," she said it was an attempt by "grown men" to "snuff out the aspirations of young girls."
"And I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government's efforts to find these girls and bring them home," she added.
Michelle Obama's address comes weeks after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau 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."
Boko Haram, which translates as "Western education is sin," has killed more than 1,500 civilians in three states in north-east Nigeria thus far this year.
"Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams," the first lady said in the address. "They were so determined to move to the next level of their education…so determined to one day build careers of their own and make their families and communities proud."
She added that education is a girl's best chance for a bright future, "not just for herself, but for her family and her nation."
But Boko Haram doesn't like Western education. It was formed by an Islamic cleric, Mohammad Yusuf, about a decade ago to fight Western education, which he claimed was the reason behind moral and political corruption in the country. Yusuf was from the Salafi movement, which is behind 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 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.
While the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticized for its slow response since the kidnapping incident, the army has now posted two divisions to hunt for the schoolgirls, according to Reuters.