Islamist group Boko Haram has released a video purporting to show the schoolgirls it abducted from the Nigerian town of Chibok in 2014. The extremists demanded the release of its fighters in return for freeing the girls.
Some 219 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are believed to still be alive. The yet-to-be-verified video is the latest release to surface from the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, who earlier this month Boko Haram split in leadership crisisdenied claims that he had been replaced as the chief of the terror group.
"They should know that their children are still in our hands," said a man whose face was covered by a turban in the video.
"There are a number of girls, about 40 of them, that have been married by the decision of Allah," the man continued saying, adding that some others had died "as a result of aerial bombardment."
At the end of the video, a number of unidentified bodies could be seen on the ground.
A serious warning
The video also issues a warning, saying that if President Muhammadu Buhari's government continues to battle Boko Haram with firepower, the girls won't be seen again.
"If our members in detention are not freed, let the government and parents of the Chibok girls know that they will never find these girls again," the fighter in the video said.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped a total of 276 girls from their school in the northern town of Chibok. They have since become known as the Chibok girls. Some of the girls managed to flee Boko Haram earlier in the yea. A girl seen in the latest Boko Haram video confirmed that about 40 of them had been married off to Islamist fighters. Some 218 girls remain missing after the abduction which aroused international outrage, with even US First Lady, Michelle Obama, participating in the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign that ensued.
Identifying the girls
Hadiza Usman, a leader of the "Bring Back Our Girls" movement, told the AFP news agency that the identities of the girls seen in the latest video were still being confirmed with their family members.
"What we are doing at the moment is to get some relatives and the family to confirm fully that some of those girls were abducted," Usman said.
One of girls seen in the background of the video has, however, tentatively been identified as Maina Yakubu, who reportedly comes from Chibok.
"What I want to tell my parents and the federal government, is that the federal government should please release Boko Haram members in the custody of security agents so we too can be released," she said.
"Military jets have killed some of the girls," she added.
The seizure of the Chibok girls brought attention to the Boko Haram conflict that has claimed at least 20,000 lives since 2009. The terrorist movement pledged allegiance to the self-styled "Islamic State" movement (IS) in 2015, declaring that their aim was to carve out an Islamist caliphate.
More recently, however, there has been a leadership battle within the group, as there appears to be a split between an IS-supporting faction and another one opposing the terror organization, which is mainly active in Iraq, Syria and parts of Libya.
IS named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as Boko Haram's leader at the end of July 2016, in charge of West Africa under the new name "Islamic State West Africa Province" (ISWAP). Previous figurehead Abubakar Shekau has, however, rejected the new hierarchy. The girls abducted in Chibok are reported to fall under his command.
Last year, the Nigerian military announced the rescue of hundreds of people, most of them women and children, from the towns held by Islamists. But the missing schoolgirls were not among them.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the group is "technically defeated." However, his government has struggled to find the missing girls, causing political embarrassment for the Nigerian leadership by highlighting Boko Haram's continued presence in the region.
ss,shs/tj(AFP, AP, Reuters)