Skip to main content

Nigeria abducted girls: Why hasn't the rescue effort produced results?

By Faith Karimi , CNN
updated 3:53 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Militants kidnapped the 276 girls last month at a school in Chibok
  • In the past, Boko Haram leader has said he'll not negotiate with "infidels"
  • The girls' abduction occurred in an area where the government doesn't have a firm grip

(CNN) -- With every passing day, the wait for the kidnapped Nigerian girls gets more agonizing.

Boko Haram seized the nearly 300 schoolgirls and vanished into a dense forest last month. Their abduction sparked a global movement as throngs took to the streets demanding their rescue.

Officials say 276 girls remain missing. Here's why their rescue is a risky, complicated effort.

It's been more than three weeks

The ticking clock could mean the girls are getting farther away.

Militants herded the girls out of bed on April 14 at a school in Chibok in northern Nigeria. A few escaped and shared harrowing tales of fleeing a nearby forest. At the time, relatives roaming through the forest searching for the girls said there were no signs of soldiers in the area considered a militant hideout.

"In a hostage situation, time is of the essence," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. "We lost some time."

Map: Where girls were taken  Map: Where girls were taken
Map: Where girls were takenMap: Where girls were taken
Victim's family: 'We have nobody to help us'
Malala: 'Girls in Nigeria are my sisters'
Annan: I wish Nigeria action came sooner

Missing girls likely separated

Kirby said the missing girls may have been broken up into smaller groups and taken out of the country.

Local residents say they've heard reports of cars filled with girls headed to neighboring Cameroon. The forest is near the Cameroon border, which is porous and doesn't require much to pass through. In some cases, a simple monetary bribe will get you waved into neighboring nations, in this case a list that includes Chad and Niger.

"The search must be in Niger, Cameroon and Chad to see if we can find information," said Gordon Brown, a former UK Prime Minister and the U.N.'s special envoy for global education.

Location and number of hostages are factors

The girls' abduction occurred in an area where the government doesn't have a firm grip. The school is about 600 miles from the capital of Abuja. And the large number of hostages means airstrikes may not be an option because they can kill captives.

A ground assault isn't a great option either -- not when it is done in unfamiliar terrain against entrenched, well-armed fighters.

Nigerian military isn't the most trustworthy

Hours after the girls went missing, the Nigerian military faced criticism for its handling of the kidnapping. It said it had rescued all but eight of the girls, a claim it later recanted after their parents said most remained missing. Ensuing attacks have shown that the security forces don't have the capability to protect civilians, which will make many think twice before providing intelligence.

It's also ill-equipped

Numerous attacks in recent years make it clear that Nigeria does not have the most sophisticated programs to battle terrorism. In addition, it's lacking in intelligence gathering, a crucial element in the search for the missing girls. This has prompted the United States, Britain, China and a host of other nations to step in to fill the gap. The U.S. offer to help includes the creation of a "coordination cell" to provide intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiation expertise, the U.S. State Department said.

Boko Haram beheads negotiators

While negotiations may be an option in some hostage crises, this case may not be so clear cut.

Rights groups have accused Nigeria of using heavy-handed tactics such as illegal searches, torture and extrajudicial killings to crack down on the militants.

As a result, it has eroded trust between the two sides, prompting Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau to say he "will not enter a truce with infidels," U.S. lawmakers said last year.

Abducted girls' families search for them
Boko Haram strikes again, killing 150
Students thought kidnappers were soldiers
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
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Boko Haram: Nigeria\'s crisis Boko Haram: Nigeria's crisis

Boko Haram members who try to negotiate with the government get beheaded.

"Reports of beheadings seem to go up when there are talks of negotiation. It is plausible that many of these beheadings, which rose in frequency in early 2012, are purges of moderate members who have complained or attempted to negotiate," U.S. lawmakers said.

If there are negotiations going on, they have not yielded results so far.

Its members are always on the move

The militants don't sit still for long, making them even more elusive. Members hop from one location to another to avoid an intensified government crackdown. They leave their wives behind when they scamper into hideouts deep into forests, forcing the girls and women kidnapped to perform chores and sexual services.

Shekau is a cold, ruthless monster

The Boko Haram leader took credit this week for the Chibok kidnapping. "I abducted your girls," he taunted with a chilling smile. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell."

He operates in the shadows, leaving his underlings to orchestrate his repulsive mandates. And they have been busy. Days after his video surfaced, details emerged of another abduction of eight girls between ages 12 and 15 on Sunday night in the northeast. And a grisly assault on a local village left hundreds of people dead.

The bounty on his head may not help much

Shekau has been on the U.S. radar since he came to power five years ago. The United States offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his location. But that may not yield immediate results.

"African warlord Joseph Kony's had a bounty for years. Osama bin Laden was not given up because of the $25 million bounty. And who knows whether this will be the case," said Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent.

310 people killed in latest Boko Haram attack while hundreds of girls remain missing

Malala to CNN: Kidnapped Nigerian girls are 'my sisters'

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

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Arwa Damon meets two young orphans, now in Niger, whose mother died years ago -- and whose father was killed in a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
A small river marks the border between Niger and Nigeria -- a shallow divide between security and the horrors of Boko Haram.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that U.S. sources now believe Boko Haram insurgents may be hiding on the islands of Lake Chad.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Isha Sesay talks to journalist Aminu Abubakar who says approximately 500 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as
Police in Nigeria's capital Tuesday made a U-turn, saying a ban on protests in support of the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April does not exist.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A top Nigerian official claims to know where the missing schoolgirls are located, as Arwa Damon reports.
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Arwa Damon reports on Nigerian schools sitting empty as residents live in fear of Boko Haram.
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Half of a yellow sun poster
It's one of the most important Nigerian stories to hit the big screen -- yet the director says Nigeria's bureaucracy is purposely preventing its release.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Opinion: The media turns Boko Haram into 'superstar monsters' -- which is exactly what they want.
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir speaks with the mothers of two missing Nigerian schoolgirls.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
With fear in her eyes, a young woman tells CNN's Nima Elbagir, the first journalist to visit Chibok, how she fled gun-toting Islamic extremists.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Women in repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele, who recently directed Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Half of a Yellow Sun," discusses his remarkable journey.
updated 10:31 PM EDT, Sat May 10, 2014
From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Nigeria woke up to a brand new economy, apparently. But the country are suffering and its people responded with a hiss.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness sake return this woman's calls.
Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.
ADVERTISEMENT