Boko Haram says kidnapped schoolgirls 'married off'
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In a new video on Friday, Boko Haram's leader said the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls who remain hostages of the Islamist group had converted to Islam and were married off. The group also denied Nigerian claims that a ceasefire had been agreed.
In a new video obtained by AFP, the Islamist group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, denied claims by Nigeria's government that it had agreed to a ceasefire and apparently ruled out any future talks on the release of the girls.
Shekau also said the Islamists were holding a German national, who was kidnapped in Adamawa state in northeast Nigeria in July.
Some 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the remote northeast town of Chibok in Borno state in April, sending Boko Haram – whose five-year insurgency in northern Nigeria has claimed an estimated 13,000 lives – into the international spotlight.
The new video comes after a surprise announcement by the Nigerian military and presidency on October 17 that a deal had been reached with the militants to end hostilities and return the kidnapped children.
There was immediate scepticism about both claims. Previous ceasefires have proved fruitless and there is little faith in the influence of the purported envoy to Boko Haram, Danladi Ahmadu.
Violence – and fresh kidnappings – have continued unabated since the announcement, including a triple bombing of a bus station in the northern city of Gombe on Friday that killed at least eight.
Nigeria's government maintains that talks are ongoing in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena.
"We have not made ceasefire with anyone," said Shekau, speaking in the local Hausa language and dressed in military fatigues with a black turban. Any such claims were a "lie", he added.
"We did not negotiate with anyone ... It's a lie. It's a lie. We will not negotiate. What is our business with negotiation? Allah said we should not," he said, flanked by 15 of his armed fighters.
He also said he did not know the Nigerian mediator Danladi.
There was no indication of when or where the video was shot but it was obtained through the same channels as previous communications from the group.
Shekau mentions the Chibok girls for the first time since a video obtained on May 5, when more than 100 of the girls were shown in a rural location dressed in the hijab and reciting verses from the Koran.
"Don't you know the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls have converted to Islam? They have now memorised two chapters of the Koran," he said.
"We have married them off. They are in their marital homes," he said, laughing.
Human Rights Watch said in a report published this week that Boko Haram was holding upwards of 500 women and young girls and that forced marriage was commonplace in the militant camps.
One former hostage said she saw some of the Chibok girls forced to cook and clean for other women and girls who had been chosen for "special treatment because of their beauty".
Shekau's claim in the video that the group was "holding your German hostage" is the first claim of responsibility for the July 16 armed abduction. The hostage is said to be a teacher at a government technical training centre in Gombi, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Adamawa state capital, Yola.
The German foreign ministry in Berlin offered no comment when contacted by AFP.
Suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram, which has repeatedly attacked schools it believes are teaching a Western curriculum and has massacred teachers and students.
The name "Boko Haram" means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa.
Ansaru, an offshoot of Boko Haram, has claimed the kidnappings of at least eight foreigners in northern Nigeria since 2012 but has been largely dormant for more than a year. The group reportedly broke with Boko Haram, aiming to target foreigners instead of Nigerians, and has executed seven expatriates it seized from Bauchi state in 2013.
In January 2012 Boko Haram kidnapped German engineer Edgar Raupach at a construction site on the outskirts of the northern city of Kano. He was killed during a military raid on a Boko Haram hideout on the outskirts of the city four months later.
Kidnappings for ransom by criminal gangs are common in the oil-producing south. On October 24 armed men shot dead one German national and kidnapped another in Ogun state in southwest Nigeria. Both were working for the construction firm Julius Berger. The hostage was later released, the company said on Thursday.
The United Nations refugee agency said Friday that worsening Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria and cross-border attacks inside Cameroon had heightened fear and made it increasingly difficult to relocate refugees.
"Cameroonian civilians are living in a state of terror due to frequent insurgent attacks," a UNHCR statement said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)