MAIDUGURI – Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack ever in Nigeria’s capital in a video obtained Saturday, as the search continued for 85 schoolgirls still missing after a mass abduction by the Islamists.
The bombing at a bus station packed with morning commuters early on Monday killed at least 75 people on the outskirts of Abuja, hours before gunmen kidnapped 129 girls from a school in northeastern Borno state, Boko Haram’s base.
Officials said a total of 44 have since escaped and are now safe.
The shock of the bombing and the kidnapping, which have broad worldwide condemnation, have underscored the serious threat posed by the insurgents to Africa’s most populous country and wealthiest economy.
“We are the ones that carried out the attack in Abuja,” Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau said in video message obtained by AFP.
“We are in your city but you don’t know where we are.”
Shekau, declared a global terrorist by the United States which has a $7 million (5.1 million euro) bounty on his head, spoke in Arabic and the Hausa language that is dominant in northern Nigeria.
The 28-minute video made no reference to the abductions from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok but the military, local officials and girls who have escaped have blamed that attack on Boko Haram.
Borno’s education commissioner Inua Kubo told journalists late on Friday that 14 more girls had been found, leaving 85 girls still missing.
Some girls had escaped immediately after the kidnapping, jumping off the back of a truck as the Islamists tried to cart them away under the cover of darkness.
It was not yet clear how the latest group managed to flee, but Kubo said 11 were found in a town on the road that connects Chibok to Borno’s capital Maiduguri, and three others had fled back to their school.
Some of those who escaped earlier this week said the hostages were taken to the Sambisa Forest area, where Boko Haram is known to have well fortified camps.
The military said it had launched a major search and rescue operation, but some in the region say they have lost confidence in the security forces after the defence ministry issued an erroneous report claiming that most of the girls were safe.
That statement, issued late on Wednesday, said all but eight of those abducted were free, but defence spokesman Chris Olukolade was forced to withdraw the report on Friday after it turned out to be inaccurate.
– Parents quit search –
Parents have been scouring the bushland for days looking for the hostages, pooling money to buy fuel for motorcycles and vehicles to help with the search.
One father said he and others decided to turn back after locals told them the insurgents were nearby and were prepared to slaughter anyone who advanced further.
“If we were armed as they are we would surely go…and face them,” said Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were among those taken.
Boko Haram, which says it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, is blamed for killing thousands since 2009.
The group’s name loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden,” and attacks targeting schools and universities have been a prominent feature of the five-year uprising.
Students have been massacred while sleeping in their dormitories, but a mass abduction specifically targeting girls is unprecedented.
A security source said there were indications that the Islamists have used female hostages as both sex slaves and cooks.
Boko Haram has categorically ruled out peace negotiations and backed away from several ceasefire offers, but Mark nevertheless pleaded with the insurgents to show compassion.
“We call on Boko Haram to release our daughters who have committed no offence against anyone,” he said.