Last week Boko Haram released 21 of the more than 200 schoolgirls they had kidnapped from a Christian boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria two and half years ago. Roughly 50 girls escaped shortly after the April 2014 kidnapping, but the location of the remaining girls has remained relatively unknown.
The Nigerian government successfully negotiated the release of 21 girls by working through the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government. A security official close to the negotiations told BBC News that a number of Boko Haram commanders were freed as part of the deal, despite the fact that the Nigerian government repeatedly reported that “this is not a swap.” The Nigerian government reports that negotiations for the release of the remaining kidnapped girls are ongoing.
The girls reported that after being kidnapped, they were led into the Sambisa Forest where they were told to either “join the militants or become their slaves.” About half the girls opted to marry fighters and were taken away, while the others were forced into labor. All were required to convert to Islam.
The kidnapping was an extreme form of backlash against educating women; the name Boko Haram translates roughly into “Western education is a sin.” Their odious crime launched the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, raising global awareness and putting pressure on the United State and United Nations to negotiate the release the young girls.
An estimated 2.6 million people have been displaced in northeastern Nigeria because of Boko Haram, which currently holds territory in northeastern Nigeria. The group has killed thousands of civilians; in 2015, Boko Haram was named the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, killing roughly 6,644 people in that year alone. They have also leveled towns and villages, and abducted at least 2,000 people.
Boko Haram has pledged its support to ISIS and refers to itself as the Islamic State’s “Western African province.”