Celebrities around the world have voiced their outrage over the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria last month, flooding social media with posts using the hashtag: #BringBackOurGirls.
Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, and Amy Poehler are among those lending their support to the social media campaign, which encourages military intervention to recover the girls who were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram rebels in north-east Nigeria.
Malala Yousafzai told CNN that the kidnapped girls were her ‘sisters’. Angelina Jolie also spoke publicly about the kidnapping, which she called ‘unthinkable cruelty and evil’.
Michelle Obama shared a photograph on Twitter of herself holding up a sign reading ‘Bring back our girls’, accompanied by the caption: ‘Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls. -mo’
The sign-off ‘mo’ means that the tweet was written by the First Lady herself and not a staffer.
The campaign refers to the kidnapping of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, north-east Nigeria, on April 14.
The Islamist militant group Boko Haram attacked the school, which had been reopened so that students could take their final exams, despite security concerns.
Most schools in the state had closed due to fear that Boko Haram, which opposes ‘Western’ education, including the education of girls, would attack.
On the night of April 14, more than 300 girls were kidnapped at gunpoint, but approximately 50 girls escaped by jumping off the back of the trucks as they drove into the Sambisa forest.
Family members of the kidnapped girls formed makeshift search parties and ventured into the forest to find the girls, armed with homemade weapons, but they have not found the girls, whom they now fear have been sold into slavery.
It has also emerged that the group had kidnapped another 11 girls from the village of Warabe in Borno yesterday, increasing the international pressure for the extremist group to be stopped and the girls returned.
Nigerian Police are now offering a £300,000 reward to anyone who can help them find the missing children.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram said he would sell the remaining captives as slaves for as little as £7.
In a video, Shekau declares: ‘I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.’
With outrage growing over the failure to rescue the girls, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets of the country’s largest city Lagos last week to protest at their government’s inability to find the victims.
The Bring Back Our Girls hashtag was first used on April 23 by a Nigerian lawayer, Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, who tweeted the phrase during a speech given by Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, at a UNESCO event.
The hashtag gained traction in Nigeria and started trending there two weeks ago and has now been picked up internationally, with people around the world sharing photos of themselves holding up signs reading #BringBackOurGirls.
Protests have also taken place around the world, with around 75 protesters rallying outside the Nigerian embassy in Washington on Tuesday wearing Bring Back Our Girls T-shirts.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said security forces are doing all they can to find the girls.
It has been reported that his government is in negotiations with the terrorists who are demanding an unspecified ransom for the students’ release.
The White House has branded the kidnapping an ‘outrage and tragedy’.
The State Department said the US are sending a ‘co-ordination cell’ including military personnel and law experts to Nigeria.
Pledging his support, President Obama said: ‘We’re going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them.
‘In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.’
British Special Forces have also been put on standby after Foreign Secretary William Hague described the abduction as ‘disgusting and immoral’.
Military chiefs in London are considering sending in the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service to help search for the schoolgirls.
Downing Street revealed British security experts would be joining teams from France and the US in trying to find the girls.
The team has been drawn from Whitehall departments including Defence, International Development and the Foreign Office.
It is likely to include military officers but will concentrate on planning, co-ordination and advice to local authorities, rather than getting involved in operations on the ground to free the girls.
However, Mr Hague has become frustrated with the situation, after he first offered his assistance nearly three weeks ago.
He told Sky News: ‘It’s difficult of course because this is primarily a matter for Nigeria and Britain can’t just walk in there… and do as we like.
‘It’s very frustrating when the world can’t act to deal with these things promptly because the trail goes cold of course after several weeks.’
A social media campaign to raise awareness globally about the kidnapping is gaining momentum with celebrities including Mary J Blige adding their support.
The mass 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.
The militants repeated that bomb attack more than two weeks later in almost exactly the same spot, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.