The hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped six weeks ago have been located, according to a top Nigerian military official. Reports, however, say the Nigerian government cannot reveal their location and cannot use force to rescue them.
“The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you,” said Air Marshal Alex Badeh. “Just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back.”
Despite Badeh’s comments, they could not be independently confirmed by the U.S. Defense Department. However, major TV channels in Nigeria have reported the news.
The kidnapping of the more than 250 young Nigerian girls caused an international uproar, with Nigerian citizens criticizing their government for not doing enough to prevent or respond to their disappearance. The schoolgirls were abducted by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, which had previously released a photo after the kidnapping of the girls wearing traditional Islamic garb.
Nigerian military have been searching for the missing girls with the help of the U.S. and other Western experts, including aerial surveillance provided by U.S. drones. Until now, officials said they believed the girls were being hidden somewhere in the vast Sambisa forest in northeast Nigeria, but they have not hinted at suspecting a specific location.
Nigerian officials reportedly do not want to use force to rescue the girls for fear of endangering their lives.
“We want our girls back. I can tell you that our military can and will do it, but where they are held, can we go there with force?” Badeh was quoted saying. “Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”
The Nigerian government was under intense public criticism for failing to locate and rescue the girls, who were abducted from a remote village school in Borno State on April 15. Women’s rights groups held protests in the capital, and a social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls (supported by the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama) has continued to draw wide support.
Badeh said bringing back the girls was a difficult mission because the adversaries are homegrown “brothers,” rather than foreign enemies. Boko Haram fighters are reportedly young, jobless Muslims lured by Boko Haram’s message of creating a pure Islamic state.
“We are not happy at all, because we are killing our own kinsmen and we are killing mostly the youths,” Badeh said.“This war should not be fought by the military alone, but by all Nigerians.”
(Photo: courtesy ABC News)