As the number of girls confirmed abducted in an attack on a Nigerian high school last month continues to rise, an increasingly furious public is hoping to spark enough international outrage to ensure the students’ safe return.
Nearly three weeks ago, gunmen stormed a boarding school in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, seizing hundreds of girls. Initial reports estimated the number kidnapped at under 100, but police on Thursday raised that figure to 276.
Some witnesses have reported that the students had been taken out of the country, to neighboring Chad and Cameroon, and that some had been sold into marriage with their captors for nominal sums.
The radical Islamist group Boko Haram is believed to be behind the mass kidnapping, although they have not officially claimed responsibility.
Protesters gathered across the country this week to express outrage at what they see as an ineffective military response.
“If this abduction…happened anywhere else in the world, the nation would be at a standstill,” one protest leader said.
Some families have given up on the government altogether, mounting their own searches into the Sambisa Forest, the dense woods believed to be Boko Haram’s base.
But others are hoping that international attention will spark a renewed effort on the part of the Nigerian government, which is under increased pressure to crack down on insurgents in advance of next week’s World Economic Forum on Africa, to take place in the capital city of Abuja.
“Why can’t the government invite other countries to help?” said Dumona Mpur, a school official. “If the world can search for a missing [airplane], why can’t the president ask them to help look for these children?”
This attack seems to represent an escalation in tactics for Boko Haram, which has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly bombings this year. The group, whose name translates to “Western education is sinful,” has targeted schools in the past, but spared female students from direct violence – until now.