One of the teenagers who escaped from the Islamic extremist group that abducted more than 300 schoolgirls has said the kidnapping was “too terrifying for words”, and that she is scared to go back to school.
Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old science student, spoke on Sunday as Nigerians prayed for the safety of the 276 students still held captive. Ms Lawan said that more of the girls could have escaped but that they were frightened by their captors’ threats to shoot them. She spoke in a phone interview from Chibok, her home and the site of the mass abduction in north-east Nigeria.
The government’s failure to rescue the remaining captives has attracted mounting outrage. Last week, Abuja accepted international help after ignoring earlier offers.
Experts expected in Nigeria to assist in search and rescue efforts include US hostage negotiators and others from Britain, France, China and Spain. Israel also offered assistance on Sunday.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me,” Ms Lawan said. “I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me.” Police said 53 students had escaped.
The Boko Haram terrorist network is threatening to sell into slavery those who remain captive and there have been reports that some of the girls have been forced into marriage with their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12. Others are said to have been carried into Cameroon and Chad.
Ms Lawan said other girls who escaped later told her that the abductors spoke of their plans to marry them.
David Cameron joins #BringBackOurGirls campaign
Michelle Obama condemns abduction in presidential address
She said the thought of going back to school terrifies her, but that it will be necessary if she is to realise her dream of studying law.
“I am really scared to go back; but I have no option if I am asked to go because I need to finish my final year exams,” she said.
In churches across the country Nigerians prayed for the girls, whose plight has brought together ordinary people at a time of growing tension between Muslims and Christians, exacerbated by the increasingly deadly attacks of the Boko Haram terrorist network. Africa’s most populous nation of 170 million has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.
The Reverend Stephen Omale prayed at a church in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
“Wherever they are, God will bring them out in his own mercy, he will see that they are brought out safely,” he told congregants.
Britain has said it hopes to help rescue the girls and to halt the five-year-old insurgency that has killed thousands of Muslims and Christians and has driven some 750,000 people from their homes.
The US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, cautioned that it is “going to be very difficult” to find the missing girls. In an interview with ABC’s This Week aired yesterday, he said: “It’s a vast country ... but we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use.”
A Nigerian security expert warned that the militants may have laid landmines to discourage any pursuit, and said strategists may be considering starving them out.
Darlington Abdullah, a former Nigerian Air Force Commodore, told the Sky News channel that “even as [Boko Haram] go along abducting children, they are also going after food”.
A leading Nigerian rights group yesterday demanded that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Boko Haram. “The future of these missing schoolgirls hangs in a balance. The council should not leave them to fend for themselves,” said Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.