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In Nigeria, the mass abduction of schoolgirls isn't shocking

By Holly Yan and Vladimir Duthiers, CNN
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Officials revise total number of girls kidnapped to at least 230
  • This poor corner of Nigeria is no stranger to such brazen, violent acts
  • Boko Haram-related violence killed 1,500 in the first three months of 2014
  • The latest incident has ratcheted up pressure on the military

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- The heavily armed militants stormed the girls dormitory in the middle of the night, herding more than 200 students on to vehicles and burning down nearby buildings as they made their escape.

That was a week ago Monday.

Of the 230 students abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in the Nigerian town of Chibok, about 190 are still missing, one official said.

The number of girls taken from the school has been revised by officials several times, and on Monday, CNN spoke with Principal Asabe Kwambura, who said a new figure of at least 230 was determined after reviewing records and taking reports from parents.

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A video of Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, is shown on September 25, 2013. Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group waging a campaign of violence in northern Nigeria. The group's ambitions range from the stricter enforcement of Sharia law to the total destruction of the Nigerian state and its government. Click through to see recent bloody incidents in this strife-torn West African nation: A video of Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, is shown on September 25, 2013. Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group waging a campaign of violence in northern Nigeria. The group's ambitions range from the stricter enforcement of Sharia law to the total destruction of the Nigerian state and its government. Click through to see recent bloody incidents in this strife-torn West African nation:
Boko Haram: Nigeria's crisis
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Isa Umar Gusau, a spokesman for the Borno provincial governor's office, put the number at 234 -- 129 science students and 105 art students.

He said in a written statement that the confusion resulted because the art students didn't leave campus as expected on the day of the attack. The head of the dormitory initially didn't count them among the missing.

No one knows where the missing girls are. And even more surprising, no one's particularly shocked.

"All the community are sympathizing with the parents," Kwambura told CNN earlier. But, she said, "the people in the villages are not surprised."

Such is life in the lawless Borno province.

Tucked away near the border with Cameroon, with phone services cut off and travel strongly discouraged, this poor corner of Nigeria is no stranger to such brazen, violent acts.

For 11 months, the provinces of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have been under a state of emergency due to relentless assaults blamed on Boko Haram.

The Islamist militant group has bombed churches and mosques; kidnapped women and children; and assassinated politicians and religious leaders.

Boko Haram -- whose name means "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language -- says it wants to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa's most populous nation.

The group has gone about its misguided mission with such depressing regularity that residents have become somewhat numb.

Where's the president?

Nigerians marvel that U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Massachusetts after the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people last year.

Boko Haram-related violence killed 1,500 in the first three months of this year alone. And yet, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has not visited the region recently.

Part of it may have to do with geographic divisions.

Jonathan is from the predominantly Christian south. That's not just geographically distant but also culturally different from the Muslim-dominated, violence-wracked north.

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Abubakar Shekau is the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria. A reward up to $7 million has been offered by the U.S. government. Abubakar Shekau is the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria. A reward up to $7 million has been offered by the U.S. government.
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To put things in perspective, none of Jonathan's major political rivals from the north attended his inauguration in 2011. And widespread violence broke out in the north when his presidential win was announced, with some residents claiming the election was rigged.

It's the opposite of what happened with Jonathan's predecessor.

The previous president, Umaru Yar'Adua, was from the north. During his tenure, violence ravaged the country's oil-rich, southern Niger Delta, with militant groups saying they wanted a fairer distribution of the region's oil wealth.

Where's the military?

The Nigerian military has been engaged in a brutal, ever-escalating fight with Boko Haram. Rights group accuse both sides of ruthlessness -- Boko Haram of indiscriminate attacks, and the military of extrajudicial killings.

But when it comes to the abductions of girls -- and there have been many -- the military has had a difficult time.

Last week, the defense ministry erroneously reported that all but eight of the girls from the latest kidnapping were free. It retracted a day later.

Lawan Zanna, the father of one of the students, said the government turned from using "blatant propaganda" to making a "blatant lie."

Part of the reason the military is loath to respond mightily may be because the girls who are kidnapped are raped, forced into servitude -- but rarely killed.

In February, 29 college students in the northern Yobe province were killed after an attack authorities blamed on Boko Haram. All of them were males. The women were spared.

In other instances, kidnapped girls were later rescued while working on farms. Many were pregnant or had babies -- the result of rape.

The spate of kidnappings began in May 2013 when Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced in a video that this was part of its latest bloody campaign. The kidnappings, he said, were retaliation for Nigerian security forces nabbing the wives and children of group members.

Those kidnapped, he said, would begin a new life as a "servant."

But the latest incident has ratcheted up the pressure on the military.

The military said "ongoing, frantic efforts" of security forces, vigilante groups and hunters are attempting to find and free the students.

But a week later, the fate of 190 girls remain unknown.

READ: Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge

READ: A year of attacks linked to Nigeria's Boko Haram

CNN's Vladimir Duthiers reported from Abuja, and CNN's Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jonathan Mann, Faith Karimi, Nana Karikari-Apau and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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