LAGOS, Nigeria >> A new video from Nigeria’s Boko Haram purports to show schoolgirls, covered in hijab and reciting prayers in Arabic, who are being held captive by the Islamic extremists.
The girls are seated on the ground, barefoot, the first video evidence of them since more than 300 were kidnapped from a northeastern school in the predawn hours of April 15 — four weeks ago.
Some appear fearful, others desolate, as two are called to the front and questioned by an unseen man.
"Why have you become a Muslim?" the man asks one.
"The reason why I became a Muslim is because the path we are on is not the right path," the girl says, nervously turning her body from side to side, her eyes darting off to the side. "We should enter the right path so that Allah will be happy with us."
She looks to be in her early teens. She says her real name has been changed to Halima since she converted from Christianity to Islam. Like the other girls, she is wearing a hijab, a piece of cloth that covers whole body and the back of head but not the face.
A second girl, who looks in her mid-teens, was asked if the girls had been ill-treated in any way. She denied it, saying they experienced no harassment "except righteousness."
Families have said most girls abducted are Christians.
In Chibok, the town from which they were stolen, parents were turning on a generator, hoping they can watch the video and identify their daughters, said one of the town’s civil leaders, Pogu Bitrus.
"There’s an atmosphere of hope, hope that these girls are alive, whether they have been forced to convert to Islam or not," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We want to be able to say ‘These are our girls.’"
The video shows about 100 of the girls, indicating they may have been broken up into smaller groups as some reports have indicated, Bitrus said.
Fifty-three escaped by themselves and 276 are missing, police say.
Bitrus said he already had looked at the video and that the surroundings appear very like the Sambisa Forest, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Chibok, into which the girls first were carried.
In a video last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the girls into slavery. It arrived amid unverified reports that Christians among the students have been forced to convert to Islam, that some have been forced to marry their abductors and that some may have been taken to neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful."
The video received Monday by The Associated Press came through channels that have provided previous messages from Shekau, who speaks in the video in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. He is shown in military fatigues cradling an assault rifle on the video that is imprinted with the Boko Haram insignia of a Quran resting on two crossed assault rifles and below the black Jihadi flag.
The United States put a $7 million ransom on Shekau last year.
The mass abductions and failure of Nigeria’s government and military to rescue them has roused national and international outrage. Last week Nigeria belatedly accepted offers of help from the United States, Britain and others.