ABUJA, NIGERIA – Nigeria on Monday rejected conditions set out by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by the Islamists.
Asked if the government would reject the suggestion by Shekau in a new video that the girls may be released once Nigeria frees all militant prisoners, Interior Minister Abba Moro said: “Of course.”
“The issue in question is not about Boko Haram . . . giving conditions,” he said.
Shekau made the claim in a video obtained Monday claiming to show about 130 of the 276 girls abducted from their school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, on April 14.
“We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren,” he said.
The video shows dozens of abducted schoolgirls, covered in jihab and praying in Arabic. It is the first public sight of the girls since more than 300 were kidnapped from a northeastern school the night of April 14 — exactly four weeks ago.
Families have said most girls abducted are Christians but the about 100 shown under a tree in the video recite Muslim prayers in Arabic. Many are barefoot. Some appear fearful, others desolate.
Fifty-three escaped by themselves and 276 are missing, police say.
The video received Monday by The Associated Press came through channels that have provided previous messages from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who speaks in the video in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. He is shown in military fatigues cradling an assault rifle on the video that is imprinted with the Boko Haram insignia of a Koran resting on two crossed assault rifles and below the black Jihadi flag.
The United States put a $7 million ransom on Shekau’s head last year.
The militant leader, who has made prisoner exchange demands before, said that some of the teenagers had converted from Christianity to Islam.
The International Crisis Group said in a report published last month that Boko Haram had written an open letter in 2011 to the governor of northern Kano state, demanding the release of detainees.
Shekau repeated the demand in a video released last week claiming responsibility for the mass kidnapping that has sparked global condemnation and calls for action.
Nigeria’s military has been accused of rounding up thousands of Boko Haram suspects, including women and children, and holding them in atrocious conditions that have been criticized by rights groups.
On March 14, Boko Haram fighters stormed the notorious Giwa military barracks in the state capital of Borno, Maiduguri, freeing hundreds of militants.
Amnesty International, however, said on March 31 that there was “credible evidence” that more than 600 people, most of them unarmed recaptured detainees, were summarily killed in the military response.