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Nigerian missing girls: Families sleep in the bushes, fearing more attacks

By Vladimir Duthiers, Holly Yan and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A father says despite officials' claims, he has seen no military presence
  • Parents and children sleep in the bushes, fearing more attacks by Boko Haram
  • The father has searched for the girls himself, venturing out with bow and arrow
  • Mother: Our daughters have been adopted or captured as slaves

CNN anchor Isha Sesay will be live from Abuja on CNN International, Monday to Thursday at 5pm, 7pm, 8.30pm and 9pm CET.

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- He ventures into the forest looking for his daughters, armed with bow and arrow in case the terrorists surprise him.

The odds are stacked against him. No one has found the 276 girls abducted from their school last month by the terror group Boko Haram.

But then again, no one's really been looking, the father says.

That night of horror

The father's voice shakes as he recalls the night his two daughters were snatched from their dormitory at an all-girls school in Nigeria.

It began with an explosion so loud that it shook buildings in the northern village of Chibok, waking the girls' family. That was quickly followed by the sound of gunfire echoing into the dark night.

By the time father made it to the Government Girls Secondary School, the militants had already opened fire on security guards and set buildings on fire.

Unarmed, there was nothing the father could do but watch ... and wait.

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Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said. Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
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Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls
Map: Where the girls were kidnapped  Map: Where the girls were kidnapped
Map: Where the girls were kidnappedMap: Where the girls were kidnapped

"When I went into the school compound, nobody will ever stand it," said the father, who is not being identified for fear of reprisals from attackers or the government.

"You will see their dresses cut out all over. And the hostel and dormitory, everything was bombed into ashes. So this man told us they have gone with our daughters. We couldn't believe him."

Armed members of Boko Haram attacked the school on April 14, overpowering the guards and herding the girls onto waiting trucks, according to accounts of that night.

The trucks disappeared with the girls into the dense forest bordering Cameroon, a stronghold for the terror group whose name translates to "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language.

That's where the story gets hazy.

Mixed messages from the government

There are questions about just how many girls were taken, with varying reports putting that number between 230 to 276, depending on who is talking.

In the days after the attack, the military said all the girls had been released or rescued. But after the girls' families began asking where their daughters were, the military retracted the statement.

This much the father knows for sure: His two daughters are among those still in captivity after almost a month.

Nigerian officials have defended their response and said they are searching.

"We've done a lot -- but we are not talking about it," presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said. "We're not Americans. We're not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something."

But the father scoffed at the government's response.

"We have never seen any military man there," he said.

"Had it been military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have seen them."

'We can't let this be the new normal'

A video of Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, is shown in September 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 in September 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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Terrorists fill the void

Boko Haram, on the other hand, is entrenched in the region.

The father believes that either supporters or members of Boko Haram live in his village.

They know his family, the father says. They know about his daughters.

The family is so afraid, he says, that they have fled their home and taken to sleeping in the bush.

"Life is very dangerous in Chibok right now. Since on 14th of April, to date, we don't sleep at home," the father said.

They're not alone. The father said that starting around 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, "people will disappear into the bush because there is no security."

"We sleep in the bush with all of our little ones," he said.

A violent force, a mother's plea

Boko Haram is a ruthless, powerful force.

The group says its goal is to impose stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa's most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

Under its version of Sharia law, women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write.

A video that surfaced this week showed a man claiming to be the group's leader saying he will sell the hundreds kidnapped girls.

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," said a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."

The mother of the two girls had little response, just tears.

"Most of the women, we mothers, we started crying because had no one to help us," she said. "Our daughters (have) been adopted or captured as slaves. Now ... we cannot even eat."

This isn't the parents' first experience with Boko Haram. They adopted one of their two daughters after her parents were killed by the terrorist group.

The mother begs for the girls' freedom, away from a lifetime of abuse and slavery.

"They don't know, probably one of them are born a president or doctor or pastor or a lawyer who will be helpful to the country," she said. "Why would they molest these little ones? Please ... release them."

READ: Nigeria's government defends its actions as more girls are abducted

READ: Boko Haram: The essence of terror

READ: CNN The Freedom Project: Six reasons we need to care about the abduction

Vladimir Duthiers reported from Abuja, Nigeria; Holly Yan and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Khushbu Shah also contributed to this report.

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