ABUJA, Nigeria — Taliban survivor and education and rights activist Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, pledged to help rescue almost 300 school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from northeastern Nigeria.
“I have come to Nigeria, to honor the stories of these brave girls who have sacrificed so much to get an education and achieve their dreams,” Malala said in a speech. “I am meeting with some of the abducted schoolgirls who have now escaped from Boko Haram, and also some of the families of girls still in captivity, to listen to their stories and call on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to do even more to help them.”
Malala spoke on Monday, July 14, in celebration of the 2nd annual global Malala Day in Abuja, Nigeria.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” kidnapped the girls in April.
The group killed at least 700 people in their first violent uprising in July of 2009, and more than 5,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence, according to reports by the Congressional Research Services.
They are considered one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world.
“Boko Haram is holding these girls as a human shield to protect themselves so the Nigerian army cannot attack them,” said Franco Majok, program manager for Nigeria projects at Christian Solidarity International told Fox News.
Since the girls were kidnapped, an international movement that started as the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has emerged to pressure international leaders to act. Notably, First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Angelina Jolie voiced their support of the movement.
“I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home,” Obama said in a video on the White House website. “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”
Malala echoed the First Lady’s sentiment, saying she could see the girls as her sister and that she would speak for them until their release.
“I’m going to participate actively in the ‘Bring back our girls’ campaign, to make sure that they return safely and they continue their education,” Malala said.
In a video obtained by Agence France Press on Sunday, Boko Haram responded to this movement by mocking it, the Huffington Post reports.
“You’ve been saying ‘Bring back our girls,’” Boko Haram’s leader Abu Bakr Shekau said in the video. “Bring back our army!”
Shekau said that he would not return the girls until Boko Haram militants were released from Nigerian prison.
Since the release of this video, violence has escalated. From July 13 to 16, the Nigerian insurgency killed 44 people.
“They were shooting at every possible target,” said Solomon Buba, chairman of a Nigerian militant group. “In fact, myself and other residents were lucky to have escaped.”
– Sally Nelson
Sources: Abuja Facts, Congressional Research Service, Fox News, Huffington Post, The White House, The Wall Street Journal