The Islamic militant group Boko Haram said in a video Sunday that it would free some of the more than 200 schoolgirls who were snatched in eastern Nigeria two years ago, in exchange for the release of its fighters.
The 11-minute video shows a masked fighter standing in front of what appears to be about 50 girls, one of whom is holding an infant.
Members of Boko Haram kidnapped 276 teenage girls on April 14, 2014, from their boarding school in the town of Chibok in Borno state. Some girls soon escaped, but more than 200 are still believed to be held in a heavily forested part of northern Nigeria.
The militant in Sunday’s video said about 40 of the girls have been “married” and none will be freed until the government releases Boko Haram fighters in its custody. The man also claims some girls died in airstrikes against Boko Haram camps.
Nigerian Information Minister Alhaji Mohammed said the government is doing all it can to try to release the girls, but it needs to be careful about who it communicates with now that the group has split in two.
Boko Haram recently split into two factions, one of which claims to be the true regional branch of the Islamic State militant group. Observers say the division shows that the group is weakening, and the video might be a way for Boko Haram’s original leader Abubakar Shekau to try to reassert his power.
A father of one of the missing girls said he recognized his daughter as one who spoke in the video and it gave him hope.
“I’m very, very happy I saw my daughter on the video and I’m very happy she’s alive,” Yakubu Kabu told CNN.
One of the kidnapped girls was found alive in the Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria in May. Currently, 218 girls remain missing. The abduction spurred an international #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.
Boko Haram launched its military campaign in 2009 and has killed thousands in suicide attacks and bombings in an attempt to establish its own version of a modern Islamic state of strict sharia rule.
Watch a PBS NewsHour Weekend report on the thousands of boys who Boko Haram also kidnapped to enlist in its fight to establish control in Nigeria.