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U.S. military sends plane to scan for abducted girls in Nigeria

May 13, 2014 at 6:08 PM EDT
Nigeria's government confirmed that a "window of negotiation" is open to Boko Haram with respect to the return of hundreds of teenage girls kidnapped from a school in a remote village. Meanwhile the U.S. began manned surveillance flights over the region and authorities tried to piece together how the attack and abduction was carried out. Gwen Ifill has an update.
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GWEN IFILL: In Nigeria, the U.S. is lending airpower to help find the abducted schoolgirls, as the Nigerian government indicated it’s open to talks with the militants holding the students.

It’s a remote, dusty village in northeastern Nigeria that’s hard to get to. Now Chibok is known around the world as the place where hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted last month by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

This video of them surfaced yesterday, and some parents confirmed today they had spotted their daughters in it. In that same video, the leader of Boko Haram proposed a swap.

ABUBAKAR SHEKAU, Leader, Boko Haram (through interpreter): By Allah, these girls will not leave our hands until you release our brothers in your prison.

GWEN IFILL: Nigeria’s government confirmed that a window of negotiation is open. At the same time, the U.S. started manned surveillance flights over the region. Authorities think Boko Haram might be holding the captives in the Sambisa forest, near the border with Cameroon.

Back in Chibok, the girls’ dorms lie empty and burned out, while authorities try to piece together what happened and how.

GODIYA SIMON: OK, the time that this thing happened to us, we are in the school. So we are sleeping in the room, and we are hearing the guns, so we come out and we sit outside, so that we are sitting, and all the staff, they run and they leave us in the school.

GWEN IFILL: In all, about 50 girls managed to escape, despite being locked in by their teachers, as one father told a reporter.

WALTA SIMON: Those teachers tell them don’t run. They tell them don’t run. And one of the teachers locked the gate, and there is no way for them to escape.

GWEN IFILL: The principal of the school says she was away when the attacks occurred.

HAJIYA ASABE ALI KWAMBULA: I was in Maiduguri, attending medical treatment. I am a diabetic patient. I went for medical treatment, because every two weeks, I used to attend the clinic.

GWEN IFILL: Nigerian authorities have come under fire for their response to the abductions and to combating Boko Haram.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Aminu Wali says the criticism is unfair.

AMINU WALI, Foreign Affairs Minister, Nigeria: It took Chibok and the girls to really bring the attention of the international community what we have been struggling with all these years. We have put all the resources in our capacity, with limited abilities, to try to combat and contain the situation.

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, protests over the girls’ plight continued today, from Abuja to Paris, where a group of high-profile women, including two former French first ladies, called for the students’ speedy release.

VALERIE TRIERWEILER, Former First Lady, France (through interpreter): We must all, men and women, be together for these young girls, but beyond that it must be a symbol for all women who are oppressed in the world.

GWEN IFILL: France will host to a summit this weekend focusing on security and Boko Haram.