U.S Drone Finds Abducted Chibok Girls
Recent U.S. surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria showed what
appeared to be large groups of girls held together in remote locations,
raising hopes among domestic and foreign officials that they are among the
group that Boko Haram abducted from a boarding school in April, U.S. and
Nigerian officials said.
The surveillance suggests that at least some of the 219 schoolgirls still
held captive haven't been forced into marriage or sex slavery, as had been
feared, but instead are being used as bargaining chips for the release of
The U.S. aerial imagery matches what Nigerian officials say they hear from
northern Nigerians who have interacted with the Islamist insurgency: that
some of Boko Haram's most famous set of captives are getting special
treatment, compared with the hundreds of other girls the group is
suspected to have kidnapped. Boko Haram appears to have seen the
schoolgirls as of higher value, given the global attention paid to their
plight, those officials said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces re-election in February,
is under political pressure to secure the girls' release, with some people
urging him to agree to a prisoner swap.
His government has ruled out a rescue operation, saying it is unwilling to
risk the girls' lives, or a prisoner swap.
“We don't exchange innocent people for criminals. That is not in the
cards,” said Mr. Jonathan's spokesman, Reuben Abati, last week in an
In early July, U.S. surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria spotted
a group of 60 to 70 girls held in an open field, said two U.S. defense
officials. Late last month, they spotted a set of roughly 40 girls in a
When surveillance flights returned, both sets of girls had been moved.
U.S. intelligence analysts say they don't have enough information to
confirm whether the two groups of girls they saw are the same, they said.
They also can't say whether those groups included any of the girls the
group has held since April. But U.S. and Nigerian officials said they
believe they are indeed those schoolgirls.
“It's unusual to find a large group of young women like that in an open
space,” said one U.S. defense official. “We're assuming they're not a rock
band of hippies out there camping.”
A wave of intermediaries acting on their own has tried to negotiate the
girls' release, Mr. Abati said, adding that the president has neither
authorized nor discouraged those efforts.
Several of those intermediaries have said Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar
Shekau, has ordered his fighters to treat the girls as valuable
hostages—not sex slaves—one senior Nigerian security adviser said.
“He gave a directive that anybody found touching any of the girls should
be killed immediately,” the adviser said. “If true, it is cheering.”
It would also show that Boko Haram is trying to follow an al Qaeda tactic
of swapping hostages for money and political gain.
The group is accelerating its kidnapping of foreigners and politicians:
Over the past two months, it has been blamed for abducting a German
expatriate, 10 Chinese laborers in nearby Cameroon and the wife of
Cameroon's deputy prime minister.
Boko Haram has used hostages in the past to demand the exchange of its
prisoners held in both Nigeria and Cameroon, which was one of the
conditions for the release of a French family from captivity last year.
Now, the group appears to be testing the bargaining power of a group of
girls who had been ordinary teenagers at a school—until their abduction on
the night of April 14. That night, fighters with the Islamist
insurgency—which is opposed to modern education— stormed a boarding school
and drove 276 girls away hours before their final exams. Fifty-seven later
The captivity of the rest became a cause célèbre, prompting a Twitter
campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, that was joined by notable figures including
Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. It also spurred Boko Haram's latest
effort to get its captives released from crowded Nigerian prisons—a
long-standing grievance. Three months after seizing the girls, Boko
Haram's leader, Mr. Shekau, appeared in a video demanding a prisoner
exchange. “You are saying bring back our girls,” thundered the bearded
gunman, before firing his AK-47 into the air. “We are saying bring back
Dozens of demonstrators still gather in the capital each day to press for
the girls' freedom.
Their rallies have become a referendum on whether Nigerian
women—particularly poor, young, Muslim girls—are valued by a government of
mostly wealthy, elderly, Christian men.
Mr. Abati said Mr. Jonathan has worked tirelessly to win the girls' freedom.
It isn't clear how many of the girls Boko Haram can deliver. A former
Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who has a history of contact with
the group, has said some of the girls are likely dead or pregnant. Only
about 130 of them—out of 219 missing— appeared in the sole video of the
girls that Boko Haram has ever provided.
Meanwhile, the international effort to find the girls has waned: The U.S.
military is now carrying out just one surveillance flight a day, mostly by
manned aircraft, totaling only 35 to 40 hours a week, said U.S. defense
officials, as drones have been shifted back toward other operations.
Some accounts suggest the burden of providing for scores of girls has
become a point of dissension in Boko Haram's ranks.
In July, four girls and women aged 16 to 22 hid in their bedrooms as Boko
Haram fighters broke into their home in the town of Damboa, they each said
in an interview last week. They feared they would be kidnapped.
When their aunt, Fatima Abba, argued on their behalf, the roughly 20 Boko
Haram insurgents decided not to kidnap them—and instead began to complain
about the scores of schoolgirls they already have.
“They are always crying. They behave like children,” Ms. Abba quoted the
Boko Haram fighters as saying of the schoolgirls. “We don't want them
Culled from wsj.com
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