LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — One of the teenagers kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists over two years ago from a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria has been found with a baby and was reunited with her mother, a doctor said Wednesday — the first of the Chibok girls to be recovered since the mass abduction.
The 19-year-old woman, described by an uncle as traumatized by her experience, was found wandering with her baby on Tuesday on the fringes of the remote Sambisa Forest, which is located near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
The news gave hope to the families of the 218 girls who are still missing and may provide information as to their whereabouts. But the young woman told her mother that some of the Chibok girls have died in captivity and the others still are being held, according to her family’s doctor, Idriss Danladi, who spoke to The Associated Press after talking with the mother.
Other Chibok girls may have been rescued by soldiers hunting down Boko Haram in the Sambisa Forest on Tuesday night, said Chibok community leader Pogu Bitrus, adding that he is working with officials to establish their identities. But it turned out later those girls were from another area, not the Chibok school, said Awami Nkeki, secretary of the Chibok local government council.
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram stormed and firebombed the Government Girls Secondary School at Chibok and seized 276 girls preparing for science exams. Dozens managed to escape in the first hours, but 219 remained captive.
The young woman is the first of those captives to be found since the kidnapping, which grabbed worldwide attention and put a spotlight on the violence of Nigeria’s homegrown Islamic extremists.
“God reigns!” one of the founders of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, Oby Ezekwesili, trumpeted on social media. “OUR #ChibokGirl … IS BACK!!!!!!! #218ShallBeBack because #HopeEndures.”
There were conflicting accounts about how the young woman was found.
Danladi said the young woman, who was 17 when abducted, was found by hunters and taken with her baby to her home village of Mbalala, near Chibok, to be reunited with her mother. Her father died while she was in captivity, said her uncle, Yakubu Nkeki. All three were then brought to a military camp and arrived under military escort Wednesday night in Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast.
But Nigeria’s military said it had rescued the young woman and her baby, along with a Boko Haram suspect who claimed to be her husband.
“This is to confirm that one of the abducted Chibok school girls … was among the persons rescued by our troops,” said the army spokesman, Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman.
Danladi, who is from Chibok and has treated several of the parents, said the young woman’s mother attempted suicide some months after her only child was seized.
The mother “suffered a huge traumatic disorder. … I had to convince her that she just has to stay alive if she really wants her daughter returned home safe and sound,” he said.
The Rev. Enoch Mark, whose two daughters are among the missing, said the news brought renewed hope to the parents of the Chibok girls.
“I believe that, by the grace of God, our daughters, some of them, will be found if they are still alive,” he said.
At least 16 of the girls’ parents have died since the kidnapping, Bitrus said, and others have ailments they blame on their ongoing trauma after the abductions.
“I suffered a stroke on Friday, that’s why you don’t recognize my voice,” Mark said.
The inability of Nigeria’s government and military to rescue the girls led, in part, to last year’s electoral defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan, who was seen as uncaring and not committed to freeing them.
The U.S., France and Britain offered help to find the girls, sending in drones, hostage negotiators, intelligence officers and others.
A social media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls reached to the White House, where first lady Michelle Obama promised her husband would do all in his power to help. “Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls,” she tweeted in May 2014.
R. Evon Idahosa, executive director of PathFinders Justice Initiative, which works on behalf of victims of child abuse, sex trafficking and rape, said the West has not done enough to help the Chibok girls.
Idahosa noted the response after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, when government leaders marched “in solidarity, arm-in-arm over the death of 17 people. Not to say that that is any less important than the lives of these girls, but the reality is that one Western life definitely has a different value from the value of a girl in Nigeria.”
Returning to ordinary life could be difficult for the victims, according to experts.
“Children in this situation typically require medical assistance and psycho-social support to help them cope with what they have been through while they were in captivity,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Helene Sandbu Ryeng.
“Our experience with children and women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and freed by the military or escaped shows that they often face mistrust, stigma and rejection when they return to their communities,” she said.
It’s not known how many thousands of girls, boys and young women have been kidnapped by Boko Haram in a nearly 7-year-old insurgency that has killed some 20,000 people, forced more than 2 million from their homes and spread across Nigeria’s borders.
Boko Haram held a large swath of northeastern Nigeria where it declared an Islamic caliphate in 2014. A multinational force from Nigeria and its neighbors has reduced their territory, reportedly hemming them into the Sambisa Forest. The insurgents have focused on attacking soft targets like markets and mosques with suicide bombers, often girls and young women who are feared to be among their captives.
There also are fears that Boko Haram is sending fighters to Libya to join the Islamic State group, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday at a summit on fighting Boko Haram. The group declared itself the West Africa Province of IS last year, and Blinken’s suggestion raised concern the two groups could start an extremist push into the vast and lawless lands of the Sahel region.
Umar contributed to this story from Abuja, Nigeria.
This version corrects that the young woman was reunited with her mother on Tuesday, not Wednesday.