In an interview with CBS News, a Boko Haram member calling himself Saleh Abubakar stated that the kidnapped girls would be held until the Nigerian government released the group’s fighters currently in prison.
Over one month ago, Boko Haram militants conducted a nighttime operation in which they kidnapped over 300 schoolgirls. The girls, between the ages of 15 and 18, had returned to their school in Chibok in Nigeria’s northern Borno state to take their final exams. Schools in the region had been closed earlier in the year due to the uptick in Boko Haram-perpetrated violence.
Abubakar claimed that when he saw the girls three weeks ago, they were being taken care of. He rebutted earlier reports that some of the girls had been forced to marry their abductors, commenting, “We do not marry them.”
A video released by the group last week showed many of the girls sitting outside dressed head-to-toe in traditional Islamic garb reciting Koranic verses. In his 17-minute portion of the video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau stated: “These girls have become Muslims. They’re Muslims.”
Echoing this, Saleh Abubakar told CBS that “[w]e didn’t make them convert to Islam by force, just by preaching, you understand.” Their conversion reportedly spared them from being sold into slavery.
The kidnapping operation, which involved some 60 vehicles, was well planned. According to Abubakar, Boko Haram planned the operation for three months prior to its launch.
Boko Haram was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US in November 2013. Shekau and two al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram leaders were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012.
The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” has become increasingly violent in Nigeria in recent months. Chillingly in the interview, Abubakar warned that Boko Haram intends to conduct more kidnapping operations targeting schoolgirls.