Reminder: Those Girls Boko Haram Kidnapped in April Are Still Missing

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Photo: Wole Emmanuel/Getty Images

Last weekend, the Boko Haram released a new video jeering at the well-intended but short-lived “Bring Back Our Girls” hashtag campaign. “You’ve been going around saying, ‘Bring Back Our Girls,’” Abubakar Shekau, the terrorist group’s leader, says in the 16-minute video.“Bring back our army,” he retorts, reiterating the group’s demands for militant prisoners from the Nigerian government in exchange for the kidnapped girls.

Such is the apparent stalemate, which hasn't changed much since the April 15 kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian girls from a secondary school in Chibok. Rescue attempts have been discouragingly passive. The Nigerian government lost credibility in the situation almost immediately — the day after the attack, they falsely claimed  that all of the girls had been rescued; and the initial government estimate of the number of girls taken (100) turned out to be less than half of the tally according to parents and school officials (the New York Times put the number at “roughly 275”).

In early May, three weeks after the kidnapping, President Obama and John Kerry announced the U.S. would try to help find the captured girls; when pressed as to why they had waited so long to offer support, Kerry seemed unfazed: “I think you’re going to see a very, very rapid response,” he said. Though the U.S. has since sent 80 troops and a predator drone to assist with the rescue, it’s unclear whether any progress has been made. At the end of May, the Nigerian government claimed to have located the girls, but said they were unwilling to use force or negotiate with the Boko Haram to rescue them. “We can’t kill our girls in the name of getting them back,” Air Marshal Alex Barde told protestors in defense of the military’s decision not to use force to rescue the hostages.

Meanwhile, information on the whereabouts of the girls remains hazy. After claiming responsibility for the abduction, Boko Haram initially had threatened to sell the girls “in the market” — reports from elders in Chibok claimed the girls may have been taken to Chad and Cameroon, married in mass ceremonies to the militants, or sold for around $12 each, though these accounts were never verified. At the same time, some girls have managed to escape of their own volition: According to the Times, 53 girls had escaped by the end of April, and more recent reports from the AFP suggested that 63 girls escaped their captors during the first weekend of July. Over 150 girls remain missing.

And violence by the Boko Haram has continued to escalate: Human Rights Watch reported yesterday that the terrorist group has been responsible for at least 2,053 civilian deaths in the past six months — a dramatic increase from last year. Recently, Boko Haram fighters allegedly killed over 300 people in the northern Nigeria town of Gamboru Ngala, setting houses on fire and shooting residents who attempted to escape (possibly in response to security forces from the town, which were reportedly going after the kidnapping victims), and are believed to have abducted another 91 people (60 women and 31 boys) from the Nigerian village of Kummabza last month. In the video released over the weekend, the Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for two explosions at a fuel depot in Lagos last month, and The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the group has killed 44 civilians in the past two days.

This weekend, girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai — who just turned 17 — visited families of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, where she called on the Boko Haram — whose name translates roughly to “Western education is a sin” — to “stop misusing the name of Islam. … Lay down your weapons, release your sisters, release my sisters, and release the daughters of this nation.” On Monday, Yousafzai met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, whom she says she told "to fulfill [his] responsibilities.” Talking to CNN, she explained: “In the circumstances, nothing is really clear, but the president did make promises, and the president said he feels that these girls are his daughters.”

But unfortunately, so far, those promises have not led to much.