Nigerian Government Considering Demand By Boko Haram To Free Its Fighters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Politicians and activists gathered outside City Hall on Monday to demand something be done to find and free the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, poet Staceyann Chin held her own child as she spoke at the rally.

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“Can they not see that these girls are only babies?” she cried. “Their whole lives ahead of them.”

“What do they fear? They fear the passion which is represented here today in red,” New York City Public Advocate Tish James added.

Najaya Royal, 17, from Brooklyn spoke in the voices of the missing girls.

“Men bet money on me as if I am a thing, sell me as if I am less than them. I am a human,” she said.

As 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported, City Councilman Mark Levine (D-7th) said the incident highlights a real 21st century problem of human trafficking. He added the brutality and sectarian violence in Nigeria brings back echoes of the Holocaust.

“Hold on little sisters, we are holding hope for your safe return. Bring them back!” Chin said.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) pointed toward the World Trade Center as he spoke.

“In the aftermath of that occurring, people from all over the world said ‘we are New Yorkers.’ Well, I’m pleased that in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, folks from all over the world right now are saying ‘we are those Nigerian girls,'” said the congressman.

As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, a Nigerian Islamic extremist leader said nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls will not be seen again until the government frees his detained fighters.

The Nigerian government initially rejected the trade, but is reportedly now considering it as demands for the girls’ safe return grow more intense — and pressure on the U.S. to step in ratchets up.

A new video from Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network received Monday purports to show some of the girls and young women chanting Quranic verses in Arabic. The barefoot girls look frightened and sad and sit huddled together wearing gray Muslim veils. Some Christians among them say they have converted to Islam, and denounce Christianity.

It was the first video evidence of the girls and young women since more than 300 were kidnapped from a northeastern school in the pre-dawn hours of April 15 — four weeks ago.

“I swear to almighty Allah you will not see them again until you release our people that you have captured,” leader Abubakar Shekau says as he cradles an assault rifle in the video.

It is not known how many suspected Boko Haram members are detained by security forces. Hundreds were killed by soldiers last month when Shekau’s fighters stormed the military’s main northeastern barracks in Maiduguri city, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the headquarters of a year-old military state of emergency to put down the 5-year-old Islamic uprising.

In the video, two of the girls are brought to the front and questioned by an unseen man.

“Why have you become a Muslim?” the man asks one.

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“The reason why I became a Muslim is because the path we are on is not the right path,” the girl says, nervously turning her body from side to side, her eyes darting off to the side. “We should enter the right path so that Allah will be happy with us.”

She looks to be in her early teens. She says her real name has been changed to Halima since she converted from Christianity to Islam. Like the other girls, she is wearing a hijab, a piece of cloth that covers whole body and the back of head but not the face.

A second girl, who looks in her mid-teens, was asked if the girls had been ill-treated in any way. She denied it, saying they experienced no harassment “except righteousness.”

Families have said most girls abducted are Christians.

In Chibok, the town from which they were stolen, parents were turning on a generator, hoping they can watch the video and identify their daughters, said one of the town’s civil leaders, Pogu Bitrus.

“There’s an atmosphere of hope, hope that these girls are alive, whether they have been forced to convert to Islam or not,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “We want to be able to say ‘These are our girls.”’

The video shows about 100 of the girls, indicating they may have been broken up into smaller groups as some reports have indicated, Bitrus said.

Both abroad, and in Nigerian communities in the Tri-State Area, the idea of negotiating with terrorists to release the girls has not gone over well.

“Negotiation, with Boko Haram? No, I don’t think that that could happen,” said Kayod Adelake.

“What do you do? Do you say, ‘OK, they can go around terrorizing people to free these girls?’ Because we’re uncertain that they will let the girls go.”

The U.S. has provided intelligence, surveillance, and hostage negotiators to the Nigerian government.

“Our intelligence experts are combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help in ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) has called on the State Department to grant refugee status to anyone who helps the girls escape.

“It takes a real act of bravery in parts of northern Nigeria to oppose Boko Haram, and if you do, your life is in danger,” Schumer said. “If someone knows if they do this great justice that they might be allowed to come here and live safely in the United States, that would be a blessing for them.”

Schumer also wants the State Department to put the kidnappers on the terror watch list, and set up a monetary reward system for information.

At least 53 girls escaped by themselves and 276 are missing, police say.

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