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Boko Haram claims responsibility for abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls

Announcement comes as government begins apparent crackdown on those critical of rescue effort

Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram claimed responsibility Monday for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls during a raid on a village in the country’s northeast last month. The group is growing bolder and extending its reach and is now seen as the main security threat to Africa’s leading energy producer.

"I abducted your girls," Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video obtained by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The mass kidnapping occurred on April 14 when gunmen stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Borno state. The abductors packed the teenagers into trucks and disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon.

The brazenness and sheer brutality of the school attack has shocked Nigerians, who had been growing accustomed to hearing about atrocities in an increasingly bloody five-year-old insurgency in the north.

The kidnapping occurred the same day as a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, that killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja and marked the first attack on the capital in two years.

Boko Haram repeated that attack a week later in almost exactly the same spot, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.

The abduction of the girls has been seen as embarrassing for the government and threatens to distract attention from its first hosting of the World Economic Forum for Africa, held this week.

The military’s apparent powerlessness to prevent the attack or to find the girls in three weeks has triggered anger and protests in the northeast and in Abuja.

In a televised media chat late on Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan pledged that the girls would soon be found and released — but he admitted that he had no clue where they were.

Further angering Nigerians, a leader of protests that have been critical of the government’s search efforts said on Monday that Nigeria's first lady ordered her and another protest leader arrested.

Saratu Angus Ndirpaya of Chibok said State Security Service agents drove her and protest leader Naomi Mutah Nyadar to a police station Monday after an all-night meeting at the presidential villa in Abuja. She said police immediately released her but that Nyadar remains in detention. Deputy Superintendent Daniel Altine, police spokeswoman for Abuja, said she had no information but would investigate.

Journalists waiting outside the Asokoro police station in Abuja, where Nyadar was being held, watched a vehicle from the presidential State House drive up and saw Nyadar being put into the car and then driven away.    

Ayo Adewuyi, spokesman for first lady Patience Jonathan, said there was a meeting but he was unaware of any arrests. "The first lady did not order the arrest of anybody, and I'm sure of that," he said.

Ndirpaya said the first lady accused the protesters of fabricating the abductions.

"She told so many lies — that we just wanted the government of Nigeria to have a bad name, that we did not want to support her husband's rule," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They [accused us of supporting] Boko Haram and that Mrs. Nyadar is a member of Boko Haram."

The Nigeria-based Daily Trust newspaper quoted the first lady as ordering all Nigerian women to stop protesting and saying, "Should anything happen to them during protests, they should blame themselves."

Protesters said they are concerned that they have been unable to reach two other people who were at the meeting: the principal of Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, Asabe Kwambura, and the town's chairman, Bana Lawal. "They were supposed to meet with us this morning. They were last seen at the [presidential] villa, and we suspect they are being kept there to stop them speaking out," said Tsambido Hosea Abana, chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, who has a sister and three nieces among the missing girls.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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