Boko Haram Still Holding 219 Girls, After Four More Escape

(Reuters) -

Four more of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last month have escaped than previously thought, Nigeria’s Borno state said on Wednesday, but 219 others were still missing and assumed held by the Islamist militants.

The girls were taking exams at a secondary school in the remote northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 when the Islamist gunmen surrounded it, loaded 276 of them onto trucks and carted them off, according to official figures.

Fifty-three escaped shortly afterwards, say authorities in Borno state, which lies at the epicenter of Boko Haram’s insurgency.

Education commissioner Musa Inuwa told Reuters by telephone the four had been reunited with their parents since then, but he declined to give further details of their escape or say when it happened.

A senior Borno state official said it was not clear when they escaped, and it may even have been several weeks ago. The parents had not contacted authorities when the girls returned.

“It was a little after the initial escapes but we doubt it was a recent escape,” he said.

The girls’ abduction shone an international spotlight on the terrorists, whose violent struggle for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria has killed thousands and turned them into the biggest threat to security in Africa’s top oil-producing state.

Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh said on Tuesday the military knew where the abducted girls were but ruled out a rescue by force for fear of endangering them.

Most officials think any raid to rescue them would run a high risk that the girls would be killed by their captors. Boko Haram has repeatedly showed ruthlessness in targeting civilians.