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Nigeria group offers to swap kidnapped girls for prisoners

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LAGOS — Boko Haram’s leader said in a new video obtained by AFP on Monday that more than 200 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls would only be released if the government freed militant fighters from custody.



Abubakar Shekau made the claim in a 27-minute video, which he claimed showed about 130 of the girls who were kidnapped from their school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok nearly a month ago.

 

A screengrab taken on Monday, from a video of Nigerian group Boko Haram obtained by AFP shows girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. — AFP



Meanwhile, Nigeria’s government is reviewing all options in response to the militant group’s offer to trade the schoolgirls it abducted last month for jailed comrades.



“The government of Nigeria is considering all options toward freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents,” Mike Omeri, director general of the National Orientation Agency, part of the Ministry of Information, told a news conference.



The girls’ disappearance has triggered global outrage, in part due to a social media campaign that has won the support of high-profile figures from US First Lady Michelle Obama to Pope Francis.



The militant leader said the girls shown in the video had converted to Islam and all were shown in Muslim dress, reciting the first chapter of the Koran and praying at an undisclosed location.



Boko Haram has made prisoner exchange demands before without success and Nigeria’s government again dismissed the request outright.



Asked if the government would reject Shekau’s suggestion, Interior Minister Abba Moro told AFP: “Of course.” “The issue in question is not about Boko Haram… giving conditions,” he added.



A total of 276 girls were abducted on April 14 from Chibok, which has a sizable Christian community. Police say 223 are still missing.



Nigeria’s government has been criticized for its lack of immediate response to the kidnapping but has been forced into action as a result of international pressure.



President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted help from the United States, Britain, France, China and Israel, which have sent specialist teams to help in the search effort.



French President Francois Hollande has also called for a west Africa security summit to discuss the Boko Haram threat, which could be held as early as Saturday.



The United States and Britain have been invited, he said.



The latest footage shows girls in black and grey full-length hijabs sitting on scrubland near trees.



Three of the girls are interviewed. Two say they were Christian and had converted while one said she was Muslim.



All three pronounce their belief in Islam dispassionately to the camera, sometimes looking down at the ground and apparently under duress.



Most of the group behind them were seated cross-legged on the ground. The girls appeared calm and one said that they had not been harmed.



There was no indication of when the video was taken, although the quality is better than on previous occasions and at one point an armed man is seen in shot with a hand-held video camera.



Shekau does not appear in the same shot. Instead, he is seen dressed in combat fatigues, carrying an automatic weapon in front of a lime-green canvas backdrop. — Agencies

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