By Ardo Hazzad
BAUCHI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has published a video apparently showing recent footage of dozens of school girls kidnapped two years ago, and saying some of them have been killed in air strikes.
Boko Haram seized more than 270 girls from their school in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, in April 2014, part of a seven-year-old insurgency to set up an Islamic state in the north that has killed some 15,000 people and displaced more than two million.
Dozens of the girls managed to flee to safety in the initial melee, but more than 200 are still missing.
In the video published on social media, which was seen by Reuters on Sunday, a masked man stands behind dozens of girls.
“We want to send this message first to the parents of these girls for them to know that these girls are still with us, some of them, and secondly they should tell the Federal Government of Nigeria, to with immediate effect, release our imprisoned brothers,” the man said.
“Some of the girls, about forty of them with God’s permission have been married, some of them have died as a result of bombing by the infidels,” he said.
One veiled girl could be seen holding a baby. Parents have accused Boko Haram of having married off some of the girls against their will.
At the end of the video unidentified bodies could be seen on the ground.
“Military jets have killed some of the girls,” said one of the girls, who was identified by her father, Yakubu Kabu, as his daughter called Dorcas.
“When I heard her voice, I realize she is my daughter,” he told reporters in Abuja. “we are pleading with the government to help…The children are suffering. Some of them could be very sick.”
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said in a statement the government “was on top of the situation” to free the girls.
“Since this is not the first time we have been contacted over the issue, we want to be doubly sure that those we are in touch with are who they claim to be,” he said.
Army spokesman Rabe Abubakar was quoted as saying by PR Nigeria, an official government agency, that the military disputed the claims that the air force had hit the girls.
“We are nevertheless studying the video clips to examine if the victims died from other causes rather (than) from the allegation of airstrike,” he said.
Authorities said in May that one of the missing girls had been found and President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to rescue the others.
Boko Haram, which last year pledged loyalty to the militant group Islamic State, has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children.
Under Buhari’s command and aided by Nigeria’s neighbors, the army has recaptured most territory once lost to Boko Haram, but the group still regularly stages suicide bombings.
Boko Haram has apparently split with Islamic State naming Abu Musab al-Barnawi two weeks ago as the group’s leader for West Africa in a two-page interview in its weekly magazine.
But the previous figurehead Abubakar Shekau appears to have rejected the new role in another video published after Barnawi’s appointment.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Sharon Ogunleye, Ardo Hazzad, Felix Onuah and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Helen Popper and Stephen Powell)