(AFP) – Nigerian parents on Tuesday said their worst fears about their daughters’ fates had been confirmed after Boko Haram, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last month, threatened to sell the hostages as “slaves.”
Abubakar Shekau, who leads the Islamist group which has killed thousands in a five-year uprising, claimed responsibility for the shocking mass abduction on April 14 in the Chibok area of northeastern Borno state.
In a video message obtained by AFP on Monday, Shekau said his group was holding the girls as “slaves” and would “sell (them) in the market”.
“All along, we have been imagining what could happen to our daughters in the hands of these heinous people,” Lawal Zanna, whose daughter is among the hostages, told AFP by phone from Chibok.
“Now Shekau has confirmed our fears,” he said.
Global outrage, initially slow to emerge, has been building, including calls by US senators for Washington to intervene.
“We cannot close our eyes to the clear evidence of barbarity unfolding before us in Nigeria,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, her voice breaking as she addressed the Senate on Monday.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday called the kidnappings “disgusting” and said London was offering Nigeria “practical help” to secure the girls’ release.
And the United Nations warned that the sale of the girls could be a crime against humanity.
A total of 276 students were kidnapped three weeks ago when Boko Haram stormed their school under the cover of darkness and loaded them onto trucks. Several managed to escape but over 220 girls were still being held, according to police.
- Taken abroad? -
Since the attack, parents have criticised the military’s rescue mission, saying there had been a lack of urgency from the outset.
The military said it had launched a major search operation, including in the Sambisa Forest area of Borno, where Boko Haram has well fortified camps.
The US State Department said there were indications the girls had been moved into neighbouring countries, echoing unconfirmed reports from local leaders in Chibok who claimed the hostages had been sold as brides to Islamist fighters in Cameroon and Chad.
Enoch Mark, an outspoken government critic since his daughter was kidnapped, said the military was still not doing nearly enough.
“Boko Haram are not spirits or extra-terrestrial creatures that cannot be tracked and subdued,” he told AFP by phone.
“The government should find our girls or seek international assistance if it cannot,” he added. “The agony and trauma are becoming too much for us parents to bear.”
- President under pressure -
Pressure on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been building since the kidnapping, which came hours after a car bombing ripped through a crowded bus station on the outskirts of the capital killing 75 people, the deadliest attack ever in the capital.
A copy-cat bombing at the same station killed 19 people on May 1.
Jonathan had hoped that a World Economic Forum summit which opens in Abuja on Wednesday would highlight Nigeria’s economic progress.
But the recent violence has put public focus on Boko Haram, with many questioning whether Nigeria has the capacity to contain the insurgents who have killed thousands since 2009.
The group, which says it wants to create an Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, has vowed to carryout further attacks across the country, including in the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s largest oil industry.
Mark warned the government that failing to rescue his daughter and her classmates could serve to embolden the Islamist extremists.
“The government should note that this may just be the beginning of more abductions and anarchy if it does not rescue these girls,” he said.
“It is Chibok today, but who knows where it will happen tomorrow? It may not end with Chibok.”