The gunmen who abducted 276 girls from a school in Nigeria last month wore uniforms and said they were soldiers who had come to help, according to a girl who escaped her captors. The girls were led outside – and it wasn't until the gunmen stole food and set fire to the school that the girls became certain they were in trouble.
"Don't worry, we're soldiers," the men told the girls, according to a 16-year-old girl who told her story to the AP. "Nothing is going to happen to you."
But after setting the fire, she says, the men began shouting, "Allahu Akhbar" (God is great), "And we knew."
Three weeks after the mass kidnapping, most of those girls are still missing; more than 50 of them escaped. The extremist Islamist group Boko Haram, which has previously targeted schools (the name means "Western education is forbidden"), claimed responsibility for the abduction Monday.
The case has provoked outrage in Nigeria, where crowds at a rally chanted "We want our girls," echoing a phrase that has inspired a campaign on Twitter: "Bring back our girls."
As NPR reported yesterday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan finally spoke publicly about the kidnapping, responding to public dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the case.
After the Nigerian president spoke, Boko Haram's leader issued a video statement claiming responsibility for the crime, confirming widely held suspicions.
"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Abubakar Shekau said on the recording, according to a translation by CNN.
Many nations have condemned the mass abduction; the U.S., Britain, and others have also offered to help find the girls.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague had this to say:
"The actions of Boko Haram and using girls as the spoils of war, the spoils of terrorism, is disgusting. It is immoral. It should show everybody across the world that they should not give any support to such a vile organization."
The abduction in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok came after "about 200 heavily armed militants in 20 pickup trucks" entered the town, the AP says, vastly outnumbering the 15 soldiers the news agency says were guarding the school. The school counted Muslim and Christian girls among its students.
The abduction has created a "grim mood of outrage" in Nigeria, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported last month. One father pleaded, "have mercy on our little ones. They are our future."