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'Fear is everywhere:' Boko Haram threat keeps abducted Nigerian girls' village awake

By Nima Elbagir and Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 5:41 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Night abduction by Boko Haram of school girls from Nigerian village shocked world
  • More than 200 girls remain in captivity almost one month after they were taken
  • Men in village of Chibok forced to patrol their community at night
  • Nigerian authorities criticized for their response to the crisis

Chibok, Nigeria (CNN) -- Journeying by day through Borno state is a tense, nervy experience.

But for some, nightfall in this part of northeastern Nigeria has become truly frightening with the threat from Boko Haram seemingly everywhere.

This state has been a springboard for a wave of indiscriminate bombings, kidnappings and assassinations perpetrated by this exceptionally violent militant Islamist group whose name translates to "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language.

Yet it wasn't until recently, when hundreds of schoolgirls were snatched at gunpoint from a boarding school as they slept in their beds, that this brutal insurgency really grabbed the world's attention. The terrifying and audacious nature of this raid in the dead of night under a hail of gunfire and explosions sent shock waves far beyond Nigeria's borders.

READ: Video of abducted girls?

When a CNN crew made the perilous journey to Chibok almost a month after the girls' abduction, they discovered the attack had left an indelible mark on this community. Locals described fearing the onset of nightfall when they felt most vulnerable, most abandoned by the outside world.

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Police fled

Before their village was stormed, some residents claimed friends and relatives in surrounding towns had warned them the feared extremists were on their way in a convoy of cargo trucks, pickups and motorcycles. They said they reported this to local authorities that night. The police, they said, called for reinforcements but none came. Everyone, including the police, fled into the bush, leaving the girls asleep in their dorms.

The gunmen overpowered the school's guards and herded the girls onto the waiting trucks. The trucks then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon, a stronghold for the terror group. Authorities do not know where the girls are being held.

READ: The road to Boko Haram's heartland

"It was horrific, it happened in the night, it was very dark. But the sound of gunshots, explosions everywhere," recalled Daniel Muvia, who witnessed the attack firsthand with his family.

"We had to run away from our homes. We had to run into the bushes for our lives. Fear is all over. Fear is everywhere."

The memory of that horrifying night on April 14 and the fear of further attacks like it has forced men like Muvia to take matters into their own hands.

Armed only with machetes, homemade bow and arrows and any other improvised weapons they can find, the community's men come together each evening to patrol their village. Their nightly vigil consists of a cautious walk around their village, led by the thin light from their small torches. Occasionally they'll improvise a road block by dragging a tree on to the dirt track to block vehicles. It's a pitiful defense against the heavily-armed militants, but they hope and pray they can protect their sleeping families against further violence and destruction.

Resilience

But fear is gradually giving way to resilience here, as Chibok's residents grow tired of waiting for outside help to arrive.

Nigeria's government has been forced to defend its response to the crisis, with President Goodluck Jonathan roundly criticized for waiting three weeks to speak to the nation about efforts to find and free the girls. And the military's campaign to subdue Boko Haram has had little success since a state of emergency was declared in Nigeria's north a year ago this month.

During the day, Chibok returns to something like normality with its vibrant market a focal point. But the physical scars from April's attack are brought sharply into focus once again -- the burned-out shell of the girls' school stands as a reminder of the scale of the destruction that fateful night.

READ: Girl: 'How I escaped Boko Haram'

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