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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

There's a grim mood of outrage in Nigeria where in the faraway, northeastern town of Chibok, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school dorms in the dead of night nearly two weeks ago. The attackers are suspected Islamist militants. Under pressure, the Nigerian government is vowing to rescue the missing students, but the military's being blamed for failing to free the teens and crush an increasingly deadly insurgency. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls continues to make headlines and dominate the national conversation. Authors like Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani say the terrifying incident in a remote part of Nigeria has struck a nerve across the nation.

ADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI: Everybody is terrified at the thought of what they might be going through. There's just no reason why these girls could have been targeted. They're so innocent, so harmless. They're probably Muslim and Christian. It's frightening. They're not being seen as northerners or easterners. They're just seen as children.

QUIST-ARCTON: As the writer notes, members of the militant Islamist Boko Haram group that claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital earlier this month are the chief suspects in the mass kidnapping of the schoolgirls hundreds of miles away just hours later. In previous raids on schools, Boko Haram, whose name means western education is forbidden, has spared girls, ordering them to go home, get married and give up their studies. But the extremists have also been reported to use hostages as sex slaves and cooks in their camps.

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QUIST-ARCTON: Speaking in Hausa and fearing for her safety, this student who asked not to be named told journalists she knew something was amiss when she and other teenage schoolmates were herded into trucks and driven off by armed men dressed as soldiers. Some girls jumped out and escaped, but nearly 200 are believed to have been spirited into the Sambisa Forest, a dangerous Boko Haram stronghold.

Families have pooled together funds for fuel and motorcycles, with fathers, brothers and able-bodied men venturing into the bush in search of the missing girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We, the parents, we are pleading, please leave our daughters.

QUIST-ARCTON: Requesting anonymity in a BBC interview, a father made this plea to the girls' captors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I plead, let the Boko Haram have mercy on our little ones.

QUIST-ARCTON: Families who have been hunting for the missing schoolgirls say they met no Nigerian military in the forest. The army has been roundly condemned for reporting early on that most of the teens had been freed, and then being forced to retract that statement. The military is also facing sharp criticism for a failed crackdown on Boko Haram insurgents.

Defending the government, presidential spokesman Reuben Abati says the administration is determined to rescue the girls and subdue the terrorist uprising.

REUBEN ABATI: In terms of strategy, in terms of logistics, the presidency and the Nigerian government is, of course, working with the Americans, working with the British, and is also working particularly with neighboring countries.

QUIST-ARCTON: But Nigerians say enough of presidential promises. What they want is peace and security now. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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