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Boko Haram: After 2 years, Chibok girls ‘all well’

CHIBOK, Nigeria (BP) — Esther Yakubu has not seen her daughter Dorcas since Boko Haram kidnapped the girl with 275 classmates from the Chibok boarding school in Nigeria two years ago, but Yakubu professes faith that the Lord is with her child.

“I know that the angel of the Lord Almighty is with you, and He will continue to be with you wherever you are,” Yakubu told the international Pathfinders Justice Initiative for women. “But I would like to advise you, wherever you are, please be strong in the Lord and He will see you through…. The Lord is your strength, and I have that hope in me that I will see you again and I will rejoice in the Lord Almighty.”

With Yakubu’s daughter among the 219 girls still missing two years after the April 15, 2014 kidnapping and raid in the mostly Christian town of Chibok, a Boko Haram video has surfaced that was reportedly given to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration as a “show of good faith” that the girls are alive.

“We are all well,” one of the girls on the video says, in what CNN translators described in a news report as a “scripted plea” for Nigeria to cooperate with Boko Haram in securing the girls’ release. The video, believed to have been made in December 2015, only showed 15 of the missing girls but indicated the safety of “all” those missing.

Yakubu told Reuters that the girls in the video were indeed Chibok students, but her daughter did not appear to be among those shown.

“I saw all the girls and they are Chibok girls,” Reuters quoted Yakubu. “I recognize some of them because we are in the same area with them.” Yakubu marched on the anniversary with about 30 other parents and activists to Buhari’s presidential villa in a cry for the girls’ rescue.

In a previous video released a month after the kidnapping, Boko Haram showed about 50 girls quoting the Quran while in Muslim attire, and had threatened to enslave them as Muslim brides. At least one of the girls may have been killed as a forced suicide bomber, the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom said months after the kidnapping.

On the occasion of the anniversary, Buhari told parents and activists working for the girls’ release that he believed they could still be freed. The government is working “diligently to ensure that the girls are returned home unharmed,” Buhari was quoted in This Day, a Lagos, Nigeria, newspaper.

But the girls likely have been divided into groups and dispersed among various Boko Haram cells that are negotiating separately for the girls’ release, This Day reported April 15.

“One senior intelligence source said that in the course of negotiations for the girls’ release, one cell asked for $50 million in exchange for the 15 girls shown in the video,” This Day reported. “Then yet another group offered another 10 girls for over 1 million euros ($1.14 million) reinforcing intelligence reports that they had been broken up and dispersed to different cells.”

The source, whom This Day did not name, also confirmed that Boko Haram is deadly, “cannot be trusted and is led by maniacal leaders,” but said the large ransoms indicate the terrorist group has been weakened.

Months after Buhari claimed a “technical defeat” of Boko Haram, a regional multinational military force of 8,700 fighters from Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger continues to report successes against the jihadists.

The military has rescued thousands of Boko Haram captives, including 1,275 rescued just days before the anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping; but none of the 219 girls had been recovered. In the attack along the Nigerian Cameroon border, troops killed 22 suspected Boko Haram fighters and arrested three suspected Boko Haram commanders, a Nigerian Army spokesman said April 12 on the army’s website.

“The unprecedented clearance operation swept through over 10 suspected Boko Haram terrorists [sic] hideouts along the border in which they killed 22 terrorists, arrested 3 Ameers (commanders) and rescued abducted persons,” the statement reads. “During the operation the troops cleared Nbaga, Bula, Dabube, Ybiri, Greya and Suduwa towns and other adjoining settlements. The towns and settlements were occupied by suspected fleeing Boko Haram terrorists who escaped from villages previously cleared by troops of the Nigerian Army.”

At least 800 hungry and emaciated Boko Haram militants have surrendered to the military, according to Nigerian government officials planning to open rehabilitation camps for Boko Haram militants who repent of jihad and agree to become productive citizens.

Working to establish strict Sharia law across Nigeria, Boko Haram has been most active in northeastern Nigeria where many of the 20,000 deaths occurred that the terrorists are blamed for since 2009. Boko Haram originally targeted Christians, but has also killed moderate Muslims.

Killings of Nigerian Christians increased 62 percent in the past year, according to the February report “Crushed But Not Defeated,” from the Open Doors religious freedom ministry and the Christian Association of Nigeria. Northern Nigeria Christian communities suffered at least 4,028 murders and 198 church attacks in 2015 from Boko Haram, Muslim Fulani herdsmen and others in 2015, compared to 2,484 killings and 108 church attacks the previous year, the report said.

Between 2006 and 2014, the report estimates, 11,500 Christians were killed in northern Nigeria; and at least 13,000 churches have been attacked, destroyed or abandoned since 2000. The report ranks Nigeria as 12th on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, and estimates 30 million Christians live in the region.

“This report shows that extent and impact of the persistent violence on the church in northern Nigeria is much more serious than previously expected. Once Boko Haram is defeated, the problem will not be solved,” a West African Open Doors representative, whose name was not released to protect his identity, said in an Open Doors press release.

“Christians living under Sharia law are facing discrimination and marginalization and have limited to no access to federal rights,” the representative said. “We hope that this report will prompt the Nigerian government and international community to take the real suffering of persecuted Christians seriously and act on their behalf.”

Open Doors marked the two-year anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping by launching an advocacy campaign asking U.S. President Obama to take a strong stance against the ongoing persecution of Christians and other victims of violence in Nigeria, and to urge Buhari to do everything possible to protect those facing terrorism there, the Open Doors press release said.

More than 2.3 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram violence in the Lake Chad region since May, 2013, according to UNICEF, including at least 1.3 million children.