Nigerian Militant Group Threatens To Sell Kidnapped School Girls

On Monday, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping. Steve Inskeep talks to Mannir Dan Ali, editor-in-chief of the Daily Trust in Abuja, Nigeria.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We want our girls. We want our girls. We want our girls. We want our girls...

INSKEEP: We want our girls, the chant of Nigerians outraged over the fact that as many as 276 girls are still missing, three weeks after they were abducted from a boarding school. Yesterday, the militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping.

We're going to talk about this with Mannir Dan Ali, who has been following this story. He's the editor-in-chief of the Daily Trust in Abuja, Nigeria. He's on the line from there.

Welcome to the program, sir.

MANNIR DAN ALI: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Is it roughly known, at least, where Boko Haram is holding these more than 200 girls, young women?

ALI: Well, you could say that they are somewhere in the northeastern part of Nigeria. And they could also be somewhere in Chad and Cameroon. It's now Day 22 of the abduction, nobody is sure of who had them until yesterday when Boko Haram actually claimed responsibility. But because of the passage of time, nobody can be sure of where exactly they are. There are reports that that they may have been taken into neighboring Cameroon or Chad.

INSKEEP: So they may not even be in Nigeria anymore. People are not sure. Now, you mentioned Boko Haram. Would you remind people what that group stands for and why they would kidnap more than 200 girls?

ALI: Most people consider them to be an extremist group that has no real claim to Islam. Because most of the major tenets of the religion, these groups have been against it, including killing - mass killings. And most Muslims have been distancing themselves from it. And they feel that what they are doing is just dragging the name of the religion in the mud.

But the group has killed thousands of people over a five-year period. In 2009 they began to wage their terror campaign. First it was symbols of authority: the police, local officials and what have you. Then they widened it to include Islamic clerics who condemn them, and then to even schoolchildren. They have gone to schools and slaughtered schoolchildren and now they've gone to abduct these schoolchildren.

They've also carried out suicide missions, some of which happened right here in the capital, Abuja, including at the U.N. building at the national police headquarters - all in Abuja.

INSKEEP: Do they claim to have some objections specifically to girls' education?

ALI: They are actually opposed to all Western education. That is how they derive their name. Boko Haram means Western Education Shouldn't Be Condoned.

INSKEEP: Now, let me ask you, because the United States has offered to help find these kidnapped girls. The British foreign secretary made a similar offer on behalf of Britain just today. These offers of outside help are coming in. But Nigeria does have a substantial military. Is the government making a serious effort to find these kidnapped girls?

ALI: Well, that is where the problem is. The government said it is doing as much as it can. But the general populace, Nigerians, do not seem to believe that enough has been done. Because it is only later today that the president is supposed to establish the veracity and the number of the girls that have been abducted. That is three weeks after the event.

And the president did acknowledge that he's spoken to President Obama on two occasions and that he's asked him for some help. He didn't specify the nature of the assistance. But Nigerians feel that the authorities are not doing enough.

INSKEEP: Are there substantial parts of Northern Nigeria where Boko Haram is strongest, where the government has very little control?

ALI: Well, that is exactly the perception here. There are certain towns and local governments which the group was (unintelligible). We got a report yesterday that there was one border town that has been taken over by the group, although they may not be able to hold it. This has been the pattern. So that sort of gives you the sense of the kind of challenge that Nigeria is facing in that region.

INSKEEP: Mannir Dan Ali is editor-in-chief of the Daily Trust in Abuja, Nigeria. Thank you very much.

ALI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we have news this morning of even more girls kidnapped in Nigeria. Police say gunmen who are suspected of being members of Boko Haram abducted eight girls overnight from a village in the Northeastern part of the country. They're between the ages of 12 and 15. An eyewitness says the gunmen came into the village in trucks, trucks that were painted the colors of the Nigerian army, and started shooting.

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