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Boko Haram threatens to sell abducted Nigeria girls as slaves

A woman in Lagos on May 5, 2014 carries a placard to press for the release of the missing Chibok school girls
A woman in Lagos on May 5, 2014 carries a placard to press for the release of the missing Chibok school girls

Boko Haram on Monday claimed responsibility for the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as "slaves".

"I abducted your girls," the Islamist group's leader Abubakar Shekau said in the 57-minute video obtained by AFP, referring to the 276 students kidnapped three weeks ago from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno state.

Fifty-three of the girls managed to escape from the militants but 223 were still being held, state police said last Friday.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has been under mounting pressure to act since gunmen stormed the girls' school on April 14, forcing them from their dormitories on to trucks and driving them into the bush.

In his first public comments on the abduction on Sunday evening, Jonathan pledged that the government would find the girls and return them to their families.

A grab made on May 5, 2014 from a video obtained by AFP shows Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a speech
A grab made on May 5, 2014 from a video obtained by AFP shows Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a speech

"This is a trying time for this country. It is painful," he said, adding that he had sought international assistance, including from the United States, in tackling the country's security challenges.

Hours before the girls were taken, the capital Abuja was hit by its deadliest ever attack: a car bomb on the outskirts of the city that killed 75 people, also claimed by Boko Haram.

A copy-cat bombing in the same spot on May 1 has put the country further on edge as Abuja prepares to host a World Economic Forum summit that opens on Wednesday and includes a visit from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

- 'I will sell them' -

In the latest video, Shekau is seen dressed in combat fatigues standing in front of an armoured personnel carrier and two pick-up trucks mounted with sub-machine guns.

A rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos on May 5, 2014
A rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos on May 5, 2014

Six armed men stand beside him with their faces covered.

The images are occasionally blurry but eventually zoom in to Shekau, who speaks in the local Hausa language and Arabic, as well as English.

"I abducted a girl at a Western education school and you are disturbed. I said Western education should end. Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married," he said.

"I will repeat this: Western education should fold up. I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Shekau said, adding that his group was holding the girls as "slaves".

"I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine," he says at another point in the video.

Unconfirmed reports from local leaders in Chibok suggested the girls had been taken across Nigeria's borders to Chad and Cameroon, and sold as brides for as little as $12.

A worker holds a placard to protest against terrorism, rape, abduction and kidnapping during a workers' rally in Lagos on May 1, 2014
A worker holds a placard to protest against terrorism, rape, abduction and kidnapping during a workers' rally in Lagos on May 1, 2014

International attention on the plight of the missing girls was initially slow but has grown quickly in recent days, in part because of a social media campaign -- #bringbackourgirls.

One of the campaign's leaders, Naomi Mutah, was arrested on Monday during an overnight meeting with First Lady Patience Jonathan for falsely claiming she was a mother of one of the abducted girls.

Another of the group's leaders, Hadiza Bala Usman, said Mutah was representing mothers who could not make it to Abuja for the meeting with Jonathan and that the first lady had ordered her arrest.

Jonathan's office denied that the first lady was involved. The reported arrest was widely criticised on social media on Monday and Mutah has since been released, Usman told AFP.

- US security warning -

Unprecedented security has been put in place for the World Economic Forum meeting, but the kidnapping and twin attacks in Abuja have added to the long-standing doubts over Nigeria's ability to contain the insurgency.

On Friday, the United States issued a security warning to its citizens in Nigeria to avoid two Sheraton hotels in the financial capital, Lagos, because of an unspecified threat.

US Secretary of State John Kerry vowed on Saturday that Washington would do "everything possible" to help Nigeria deal with Boko Haram militants and bring the children home.

Boko Haram has been waging an increasingly deadly insurgency in Nigeria's north that has claimed more than 1,500 lives this year alone.

The violence has largely been confined to three northeastern states -- Borno, Yobe and Adamawa -- which have been under a state of emergency since May last year.

Previous attacks have targeted government offices and military installations as well as Christian churches and schools teaching a so-called Western curriculum.

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