Aminu Abubakar et al., CNN, May 12, 2014
The girls sit quietly on the ground, dressed in traditional Islamic garb, barely moving, clearly scared.
“Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world,” they chant.
The video, released by French news agency Agence France-Presse, purports to show about 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped byBoko Haram fighters nearly a month ago. It’s the first time they’ve been seen since their abduction April 14.
In separate shots included in the 27-minute video, a man says he will release the girls only after imprisoned members of Boko Haram are freed, according to AFP.
The man identifies himself as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Nigerian officials disputed that claim on Monday, arguing that Shekau is dead. Other experts say the notorious terror group leader is still alive.
Whoever the man in the video is, Nigeria’s interior minister said, the country isn’t interested in negotiating a swap anyway, according to AFP.
But at a later briefing, the director of the National Orientation Agency, a government information ministry, said negotiations could be an option when it comes to rescuing the kidnapped girls.
When asked whether all options were on the table, agency Director Mike Omeri said yes.
“The government of Nigeria will continue to explore all options for the release and safe return of our girls back to their respective homes,” Omeri told CNN.
The abductions have resulted in worldwide outrage directed at the terror group and an influx of Western counterterrorism and law enforcement experts to help Nigeria fight it.
Filmed in a nondescript clearing surrounded by scrub and trees, the girls appear dressed in gray or black veils. Many look nervous or under duress. In one shot, a girl almost whispers a line from the Quran.
In separate shots filmed against a green backdrop, the man who claims to be Shekau says the girls–who come from a Christian stronghold–have converted to Islam.
He appears to open a window to the possibility of negotiating a swap: the girls for Boko Haram prisoners held by Nigeria.
“By Allah, these girls will not leave our hands until you release our brothers in your prison,” he said. “You took our brothers four or five years ago, and now they are in your prisons. You do many things, and now you talk of these girls. We will not let them go until you release our brothers.”
But he also says he still plans to sell them into slavery.
While experts analyze the video, the international effort to find the girls is gaining steam.
U.S. and British officials are in the capital of Abuja to help look for the girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to quash the terror group.
The United States is providing manned Defense Department aerial surveillance planes over Nigerian territory and sharing commercial satellite images with Nigeria as part of efforts to find the girls, two senior Obama administration officials told CNN’s Elise Labott on Monday.
China and France are also helping in the search. Israel plans to send a team of counterterrorism experts to help, Jonathan’s office said Sunday.
The United States has said it has no plans to send combat troops.
The U.S. team is working to help the Nigerian military plan operations and boost its capacity, providing investigation and intelligence support, advising on hostage negotiations and other issues, a senior State Department official told Labott.
The findings by human rights group Amnesty International mirror accounts by parents and villagers, who described to CNN an ineffective military response in the days and weeks after the abductions.
Nigeria’s information and defense ministries disputed the report.
The moment the Nigerian government heard of the kidnappings, “we went in to action,” Information Minister Labaran Maku said.
“We shouldn’t turn this into a trial of the Nigerian government.”