In a remote corner of northeastern Nigeria, a group of desperate parents have joined a band of vigilantes to search for at least 100 teenage girls abducted from a boarding school in a predominantly Christian town.
Gunmen stormed the school in Borno State on Monday evening, stealing food and supplies and forcing more than 100 girls into trucks. Authorities believe the attackers are members of Boko Haram, a terrorist group of Islamic militants waging a brutal war in northern Nigeria to impose an Islamic state.
Security forces suspect the militants have taken the girls into a heavily forested area near the border with Cameroon. A handful of the students might have managed to escape, though the government has given conflicting reports on the number of missing.
On Wednesday, government officials claimed most of the girls had escaped, but parents and school leaders immediately dismissed those claims, saying nearly all the girls remained missing. By Thursday, the Nigerian military admitted most of the girls had not been rescued. They remain captive to a ruthless band of militants who have conducted a relentless killing spree against Christians in Nigeria’s North. Before gunmen attacked the school Monday night, they raided the town, setting fire to homes and public buildings. The group has killed more than 1,500 people this year alone, including many residents in Christian villages.
Nigerian military forces have mounted a rescue mission to track and free the schoolgirls, but some parents have insisted on joining the dangerous search. The BBC reported a group of parents raised money to buy fuel and water and headed into the Sambisa forest with local vigilantes to search for their daughters. One father told a BBC reporter he was willing to die in the forest to free his child.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan expressed concern over the abductions and called an emergency security meeting for Thursday. An official state of emergency in three northeastern states was set to expire soon, but the unfolding horrors in northern Nigeria appear to have no end in sight.
As Nigerian Christians head into Easter weekend, worries loom about the possibilities of attacks on packed churches. The U.S. State Department warned American citizens living in Nigeria to remain particularly vigilant this weekend about their personal safety, especially around places of worship.