Kidnapped Nigerian School Girl Escapes, Talks About Ordeal

Renee Montagne talks to Michelle Faul, the Nigeria bureau chief for The Associated Press, on the latest regarding the abductions of Nigerian schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terror group.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Word has emerged this morning of a massive attack in Nigeria. Officials say the Islamist group Boko Haram killed well over 100 people during a 12-hour period starting Monday night. This happened in a remote town in the country's northeast, where Boko Haram is mostly active. Militants apparently sprayed gunfire into an open market. They set homes ablaze, and chased down residents who tried to escape.

This news comes as the world's attention is focused on the nearly 300 girls who've been kidnapped by Boko Haram, most of them as part of a mass abduction at a boarding school three weeks ago. President Obama yesterday pledged U.S. assistance to find the girls. Here, he's speaking on NBC News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC NEWS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can only imagine what the parents are going through. So what we've done is, we have offered - and it's been accepted - help from our military and law enforcement officials. We're going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them.

MONTAGNE: Michelle Faul is Nigeria bureau chief for the Associated Press. She's been able to interview one of the girls who was able to flee on the night of the first kidnapping. Good morning.

MICHELLE FAUL: Good morning to you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us her story.

FAUL: Well, she's a brave young woman. She says that when the gunmen came to her dormitory, they were sleeping. This was before dawn. These men came in, they had uniforms, and they said: Don't worry, we're soldiers here to help you. And she says it wasn't until - that they were outside, and these gunmen started setting fire to the school and shouting, Allahu Akbar - which is God is great - that it suddenly dawned on them, these were not soldiers. These were Boko Haram.

MONTAGNE: She was one of the handful of young women who escaped. How was she able to do that?

FAUL: Police say there are 53 who have now come back, and that they are still 276 girls missing. The girl I spoke with was able to escape on the first night. She said that they were loaded onto trucks. It was dark. In the dark, some of the girls clung to low-hanging branches overhead. This was an open-back truck. She said she hesitated. And then one of the girls said: Me, I'm going. If they shoot me, they shoot me, but I don't know what else they might do to me if I don't go. So this girl jumped down, and the girl I spoke to jumped down. She said she ran into the bush. And she says: I ran and I ran! And she says: That's how I was able to save myself.

MONTAGNE: Mm. She must have been traumatized, though. And nothing to compare to those girls were not able to escape.

FAUL: You can imagine the conditions that they're in. They were taken initially to the Sambisa forest - dense forest, humid heat, blocks of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. They're probably drinking water from rivers and streams; that's not clean. We're told they're kept on the move. Every couple of days, they're moving. So are they eating properly? It's not surprising that these girls are ill, apart from the trauma.

MONTAGNE: Why has the Nigerian government not seemed to be doing anything so far? I'm not saying they're not, but we can't tell that they're doing anything.

FAUL: The Nigerian government claims they're doing aerial surveillance over the forest, and across into the borders of Cameroon and across Chad. They say that they have soldiers on foot. The people I spoke to in Chibok said that they mounted their own search parties. They put money together and bought petrol, got on motorcycles, and went into that very dangerous forest. As one of the people who was in the search party said to me, nobody saw any soldier man, but Nigeria's army is in hot pursuit. How is that?

MONTAGNE: Michelle, there are other girls besides this group that we've been hearing so much about. Tell us about that. They were kidnapped before this group was kidnapped, and girls who have been kidnapped since.

FAUL: Absolutely. Two weeks before the kidnappings at Chibok, 25 young girls were taken from a town called Konduga. They're still out there. They're still probably held captive, and nobody is hearing about them. We have a new set of girls who were kidnapped. This happened on Monday night - 11 girls. These are much younger than the other ones. These girls are age 12 to 15. And this comes right after the Boko Haram leader said in a video that he got to journalists, that he was going to kidnap girls as young as 9 years old. He said that these girls will be his slaves, and that he will sell them into slavery. He said: There's a market for them, and I know it.

MONTAGNE: Michelle Faul is the Nigeria bureau chief for the Associated Press. Thanks very much for joining us.

FAUL: You're most welcome, Renee. Good day.

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