#BringBackOurGirls: Boko Harm victims tell their horrible story

February 12, 2015 2:23 am

When Islamic extremists snatched more than 270 girls from the Chibok
boarding school in in the dead of night, protests broke out
worldwide. The US pledged to help find them, and the
hashtag was born.
Some 10 months later, most are still missing.
The extremist group sees the mass kidnapping as a shining
symbol of success, and has abducted hundreds of other girls, boys and
women. The militants brag to their new captives about the surrender of
the Chibok girls, their conversion to Islam and their marriage to
fighters.
“They told me the Chibok girls have a new life where
they learn to fight,” says Abigail John, 15, who was held by Boko Haram
for more than four weeks before escaping. “They said we should be like
them and accept Islam.”

Dorcas Aiden, 20, was caught in Boko Haram’s siege. Photo / AP
The kidnappings reflect the growing
ambition and brazenness of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose an Islamic
state across Nigeria, ’s most populous country.

Some 10,000 people have died in the Islamic uprising over the
past year, compared to 2,000 in the previous four years, according to
the US Council on Foreign Relations.
“It’s devastating,” said Bukky Shonibare, an activist in Abuja, of the kidnappings. “It makes you wonder, what is being done?”
John
was among three girls interviewed by The Associated Press who recently
escaped from Boko Haram. While their stories could not be independently
verified, they were strikingly similar, and all spoke of their captors’
obsession with the Chibok girls.
The girls had no idea whether
the militants were telling the truth or making up stories to taunt their
victims. John says the fighters enjoyed relating how they had whipped
and slapped the Chibok girls until they submitted.
When the
Nigerian air force dropped a bomb on the house where John was confined,
she tried to escape, she says. She wrestled with the fighters, but they
broke her am and hauled her off to another house.
At the end of
last year, the Nigerian army liberated the town where she was held. She
is now in Yola with her father, sister and six brothers, in a house
overcrowded with refugees. She finally was able to get medical attention
for her fractured right arm, which remains in a cast.
The
kidnappings of the Chibok girls in April brought Boko Haram to the
world’s attention in a way the group could not have imagined. The
hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was tweeted more than 480,000 times globally
in early May, and US first lady Michelle Obama held it up in a sign to
television cameras. She said at the time, “In these girls, Barack and I
see our own daughters …we can only imagine the anguish their parents
are feeling right now.”
Yet in the 10 months since, Boko Haram
has increased the tempo and ferocity of its insurgency. In August, it
began seizing and holding towns, and – copying the Islamic State group –
declared it would recreate an ancient Islamic caliphate in the region.
The fighting has since spilled across Nigeria’s borders, and the African
Union this month authorized a multinational force of 8,750 troops to
try to stamp it out.
Dorcas Aiden, 20, was another of those
caught in Boko Haram’s siege. She had finished high school and was
living at home when the war came to her village. Fighters took her to a
house in the town of Gulak and held her captive for two weeks last
September.
The more than 50 teenage girls crammed into the house
were beaten if they refused to study Quranic verses or conduct daily
Muslim prayers, she says. When the fighters got angry, they shot their
guns in the air. Aiden finally gave in and denied her Christian faith to
become Muslim, at least in name, she says.
One day, the fighters
stormed into the room where she was kept locked up with a dozen other
girls. They showed a video of the Chibok girls, dressed in hijabs, with
only their faces visible through their veils. Aiden says she was so
overwhelmed that she cried.
The fighters said the Chibok girls
were all Muslims now, and some were training as fighters to fight women,
which Boko Haram men are not supposed to do.
Aiden’s captors
boasted about how they had married off the Chibok girls, she says. One
fighter said he would marry her. She balked.
“I said, ‘No, I will not marry you,”‘ Aiden recounts. “So he pulled out a gun and beat my hand.”
Aiden
says the insurgents threatened to break the legs of any girl who tried
to escape, but she and six others ran anyway. As she made her way
through abandoned farm fields, she noticed that Boko Haram had filled
about 10 other houses with girls and women.
Aiden, who
is now in Yola with tens of thousands of other refugees, dreams of going
to university, in defiance of the extremists’ insistence that girls
should be married, not educated. The nickname Boko Haram means “Western
education is forbidden or sinful.”
Another escapee, a shy
16-year-old captured in September, begs that her name not be published
because she escaped only a few weeks ago and believes the fighters are
actively searching for her. After the girl’s village was attacked four
times, she fled to a great-aunt. Then that village also was targeted,
she says.
The fighters held her for four months. When she
escaped, she walked through the bush and across the border into Cameroon
to avoid areas under Boko Haram’s control. She is now taking refuge in a
Catholic church in Yola.
All the girls say they were not raped,
despite the fears of some villagers. Instead, the fighters said they
wanted the girls to remain virgins until they were married off.
“They said they are doing the work of God, so they will not touch us,” the 16-year-old recounts.
As
she tells her story, she fidgets and looks down at her hands, clasped
in her lap. She recounts how one fighter, nicknamed “Tall Arab,” was set
on marrying her. She pleaded that she was too young, but was told, “Do
you think you are better than those Chibok girls that we kidnapped?”
The
man told her the Chibok girls were “enjoying their matrimonial homes,”
she remembers. He also said the Chibok girls had turned against their
parents, and were “ready to slit their parents’ throats” if they ever
saw them again.
Some never will. Even if the girls are released,
people in Chibok say at least 13 of their parents have died since they
were seized, in Boko Haram violence or possibly stress-related illness.
While
dozens of Chibok girls escaped on their own after their kidnapping, 219
are still missing. Nigeria’s military initially feared any action could
lead to the girls being killed.
But villagers reported last week
that air force jets have begun bombing the Sambisa Forest – the area
where fighters told Aiden some girls still are held captive.

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