LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The father of one of the Nigerian schoolgirls still unaccounted for after Boko Haram extremists returned 104 girls from a mass abduction said Thursday he believes his daughter and others are dead and buried.
Inuwa Garba told The Associated Press that friends of his daughter who were freed on Wednesday told him the 16-year-old died from injuries in the frightened stampede that occurred during the mass abduction in Dapchi a month ago.
“They told me five of the girls died and my daughter, who was among them, was the first to die” the day the girls were seized, Garba said. The survivors told him the bodies were buried in the bush.
“I believe what the girls told me because they were all together and saw what happened,” he said.
Nigeria’s government has not commented on the fate of the six missing girls. On Wednesday, one 14-year-old released by the fighters told reporters that five girls had died but did not provide details.
At least one of the freed girls, Khadija Grema, has said a Christian classmate remained captive, while those released are Muslim. “We were freed because we are Muslim girls and they didn’t want us to suffer. That is why they released us,” she said.
One parent of a schoolgirl who was released, Rabiu Sani, told the AP that freed girls also told him that a Christian was still captive “because they want to convert her to Islam. We are all praying for her release.”
The freed girls were taken to the capital, Abuja, later Wednesday.
In the extraordinary release, the Boko Haram extremists brought back girls they had kidnapped from a boarding school, dropping them off early Wednesday with a warning: “Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.” Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
The abductions in Dapchi have evoked painful memories of the tragedy in Chibok, where 276 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school. Nearly four years later, about 100 of them have never returned home. Many had been forced to marry their captors and had children fathered by them.
The Nigerian government denies that it paid a ransom or made a prisoner swap in exchange for the Dapchi girls’ freedom. Both occurred before the largest release of Chibok schoolgirls last year.
The latest mass abduction is thought to have been carried out by a Boko Haram splinter group aligned with the Islamic State group that has criticized the leader of the main Boko Haram organization for targeting civilians and has focused instead on military and Western targets.
Nigeria’s government under President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly claimed victory over Boko Haram in recent months but the extremists continue to carry out deadly suicide bombings in the north, often using young women who have been abducted and indoctrinated.
The Dapchi mass abduction has caused a fresh round of outrage, especially about the protection of schools in a region where Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people over nearly a decade.
The release of the girls came a day after an Amnesty International report accused the Nigerian military of failing to heed several warnings of the imminent attack on Feb. 19 during which the girls were seized. The military has called the report an “outright falsehood.”