Nigerian girl describes kidnap, 276 still missing

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FILE – In this Monday April 21, 2014 file photo, four female students of government secondary school Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and reunited with their families walk in Chibok, Nigeria. The number of kidnapped schoolgirls missing in Nigeria has risen to 276, up by more than 30 from a previous estimate, police said, adding that the actual number abducted by Islamic extremists on April 14 was more than 300. Police Commissioner Tanko Lawan said the number of girls and young women who have escaped also has risen, to 53. (AP Photo/ Haruna Umar, File)

FILE – In this Monday April 21, 2014 file photo, four female students of government secondary school Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and reunited with their families walk in Chibok, Nigeria. The number of kidnapped schoolgirls missing in Nigeria has risen to 276, up by more than 30 from a previous estimate, police said, adding that the actual number abducted by Islamic extremists on April 14 was more than 300. Police Commissioner Tanko Lawan said the number of girls and young women who have escaped also has risen, to 53. (AP Photo/ Haruna Umar, File)

In this image made from video received by The Associated Press on Monday, May 5, 2014, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, speaks in a video in which his group claimed responsibility for the April 15 mass abduction of nearly 300 teenage schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria. Shekau threatened to sell the nearly 300 teenage schoolgirls abducted from a school in the remote northeast three weeks ago, in a new videotape received Monday. It was unclear if the video was made before or after reports emerged last week that some of the girls have been forced to marry their abductors — who paid a nominal bride price of $12 — and that others have been carried into neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Those reports could not be verified. (AP Photo)

Map locates Chibok, Nigeria where more than 300 schoolgirls were abducted.; 1c x 2 3/4 inches; 46.5 mm x 69 mm;

A women attend a mass-demonstration calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue the hundreds of missing kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chibok, in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, May 5, 2014. Leader of a protest march Saratu Angus Ndirpaya of Chibok town, said that Nigeria’s First Lady ordered her and another protest leader to be arrested Monday, and expressed doubts there was any kidnapping and accused them of belonging to the Islamic insurgent group blamed for the abductions. Police say more than 300 girls and young women were abducted mid-April from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, of whom some 53 girls are known to have escaped. (AP Photo/ Sunday Alamba)

In this image made from video received by The Associated Press on Monday, May 5, 2014, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, speaks in a video in which his group claimed responsibility for the April 15 mass abduction of nearly 300 teenage schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria. Shekau threatened to sell the nearly 300 teenage schoolgirls abducted from a school in the remote northeast three weeks ago, in a new videotape received Monday. It was unclear if the video was made before or after reports emerged last week that some of the girls have been forced to marry their abductors — who paid a nominal bride price of $12 — and that others have been carried into neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Those reports could not be verified. (AP Photo)

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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The girls in the school dorm could hear the sound of gunshots from a nearby town. So when armed men in uniforms burst in and promised to rescue them, at first they were relieved.

“Don’t worry, we’re soldiers,” one 16-year-old girl recalls them saying. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”

The gunmen commanded the hundreds of students at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School to gather outside. The men went into a storeroom and removed all the food. Then they set fire to the room.

“They … started shouting, ‘Allahu Akhbar,’ (God is great),” the 16-year-old student said. “And we knew.”

What they knew was chilling: The men were not government soldiers at all. They were members of the ruthless Islamic extremist group called Boko Haram. They kidnapped the entire group of girls and drove them away in pickup trucks into the dense forest.

Three weeks later, 276 girls are still missing. At least two have died of snakebite, and about 20 others are ill, according to an intermediary who is in touch with their captors.

Their plight — and the failure of the Nigerian military to find them — has drawn international attention to an escalating Islamic extremist insurrection that has killed more than 1,500 so far this year. Boko Haram, the name means “Western education is sinful,” has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping and threatened to sell the girls. The claim was made in a video seen Monday. The British and U.S. governments have expressed concern over the fate of the missing students, and protests have erupted in major Nigerian cities and in New York.

The 16-year-old was among about 50 students who escaped on that fateful day, and she spoke for the first time in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. The AP also interviewed about 30 others, including Nigerian government and Borno state officials, school officials, six relatives of the missing girls, civil society leaders and politicians in northeast Nigeria and soldiers in the war zone. Many spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing that giving their names would also reveal the girls’ identities and subject them to possible stigmatization in this conservative society.

The Chibok girls school is in the remote and sparsely populated northeast region of Nigeria, a country of 170 million with a growing chasm between a

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