The Nigerian government on Sunday said that it is “in touch” with Boko Haram over the release of a new video purportedly showing girls kidnapped from the Nigerian town of Chibok two years ago.
“Since this is not the first time we have been contacted over the issue, we want to be doubly sure that those we are in touch with are who they claim to be,” Nigerian information minister Lai Mohammed said in a statement.
Earlier on Sunday Boko Haram released a new video purportedly showing some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the extremist group from the Nigerian town of Chibok more than two years ago.
The footage was issued just days after embattled Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau denied claims that he had been replaced as the leader of the Nigeria-based group.
The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014 provoked global outrage and brought unprecedented attention to Boko Haram and its bloody quest to create a fundamentalist state in northeastern Nigeria.
While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the group is “technically defeated” his government has struggled to find the girls, in a political embarrassment for the leadership highlighting Boko Haram’s continued presence in the region.
“They should know that their children are still in our hands,” said a man whose face was covered by a turban in the video posted on YouTube.
It was attributed to the old Boko Haram name, not the new Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), suggesting it was released by Shekau’s faction.
“There is a number of the girls, about 40 of them, that have been married,” said the man in the 11-minute video, which shows girls with veils sitting on the ground and standing in the background.
“Some of them have died as a result of aerial bombardment.”
The man calls on the Nigerian government to release Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls.
“This focuses on using the girls as a bargaining chip,” Ryan Cummings, director at intelligence firm Signal Risk, told AFP. “The video shows that the war effort is hurting the operations of the group,” Cummings said.
“It does have a sense of almost desperation from Boko Haram.”
Last week, Boko Haram's leader Shekau appeared in a video vowing to fight on, amid a leadership scuffle between him and new ISIS-backed rival Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
Barnawi has criticized Shekau’s indiscriminate and brutal leadership in Nigeria that has seen Boko Haram fighters kill thousands of people in mosques and markets and raze entire cities to the ground.
Throughout 2015, the Nigerian military announced the rescue of hundreds of people, most of them women and children, who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
But the missing Chibok schoolgirls were not among them, despite several unconfirmed sightings.
Hadiza Usman, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, told AFP that he had seen the video and is contacting parents in order to confirm the identities of the girls.
“What we are doing at the moment is to get some relatives and the family to confirm fully that some of those girls were abducted,” Usman said.
Boko Haram has been blamed for some 20,000 deaths and displacing more than 2.6 million people since it launched a brutal insurgency in Nigeria in 2009.