Nigeria 'rejects Boko Haram prisoner exchange offer' after video message appears to show kidnapped schoolgirls for first time

Extremist group’s leader reportedly says the girls have been forced to convert to Islam while in captivity

The Nigerian government has reportedly rejected an offer from the militant group Boko Haram to release more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in exchange for prisoners.

Earlier today the terrorist group released a new video message in which they purported to show some of the hundreds of girls they have captured from a town in the north-east of the country.

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the militant group, also said that the girls had been converted to Islam while in captivity, which he referred to as a "liberation".

The 17-minute video, obtained by the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), showed around 100 girls wearing full veils and reportedly praying in an undisclosed location.

In a separate part of the video, Shekau said that the girls would remain captive until the Nigerian government releases all imprisoned Boko Haram militants.

When asked if the government would reject any offer of a deal in exchange for prisoners, interior minister Abba Moro told AFP: "Of Course."

He said: "The issue in question is not about Boko Haram giving conditions."

The video has raised further concerns that the girls have now been split up into a number of groups across a remote stretch of Nigeria, as well as fears some may have been smuggled out of the country altogether.

The Nigerian government has previously said it will not "pay a ransom" to get the girls back, and on Thursday the president, Goodluck Jonathan, vowed that he would make the incident "the beginning of the end" of terrorism in the country.

Three girls were reported to have appeared individually in the videos, with one of them saying that they had not been harmed by their captors.

Two girls reportedly said they were Christian and have converted to Islam and the third said she is a Muslim.

Speaking to Sky News earlier, the father of one of the kidnapped girls said he did not want the government to accept Boko Haram's offer of an exchange for prisoners.

"It's not right," he said. "They'll do it again."

Graphic shows the regions of Nigeria in which the militant group Boko Haram is active Graphic shows the regions of Nigeria in which the militant group Boko Haram is active Click here to see larger version of graphic

Though reports vary on the exact number of schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram initially, it is believed that 276 remain missing from the more than 300 kidnapped on 14 April from Chibok in the state of Borno, which has a large Christian community.

A number of the girls were able to break free from the group, and speaking yesterday one of them said more would have escaped had they not feared being shot by their captors.

The government’s failure to rescue the remaining girls has attracted mounting outrage. After appearing to ignore earlier offers, last week Mr Jonathan accepted international help.

A screengrab from the video released by Boko Haram shows a man claiming to be their leader, Abubakar Shekau (AFP) A screengrab from the video released by Boko Haram shows a man claiming to be their leader, Abubakar Shekau (AFP) The team expected in Nigeria to assist in search and rescue efforts will include US hostage negotiators, counter-terror experts and intelligence agents from Britain, France, China and Spain. Israel also offered assistance on Sunday.

Around the world, the effort to rescue the captives has been fuelled by a social media campaign, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Yesterday it was joined by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who later came in for criticism that there were more practical things he could do to help.

Responding to the video that emerged today, Downing Street condemned it as showing "the horror and the barbarity of the actions in the kidnapping of these girls".

A spokesperson for Mr Cameron said: "It underlines the importance of working with and in support of the Nigerian authorities and Nigerian people in terms of trying to bring about the release of the kidnapped girls."

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