Several Nigerian schoolgirls did not survive Boko Haram captivity

Just one Nigerian schoolgirl is still held by Boko Haram after the extremists released 104 classmates seized in a mass abduction and she "will not be abandoned," President Muhammadu Buhari said Thursday, with no word on five girls still unaccounted for, but who are said to be dead and buried.

5 are believed dead, while Leah Sharibu of Dapchi is still unaccounted for

Two of the newly released Dapchi schoolgirls are shown waiting to board a plane at the air force base in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on Wednesday after they were returned to safety. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

Just one Nigerian schoolgirl is still held by Boko Haram after the extremists released 104 classmates seized in a mass abduction and she "will not be abandoned," President Muhammadu Buhari said Thursday, with no word on five girls still unaccounted for, but who are said to be dead and buried.

The president's statement calls Leah Sharibu "the only Dapchi schoolgirl still in captivity" after the extraordinary release of the girls on Wednesday.

Freed girls and parents have said Sharibu is Christian and still captive "because they want to convert her to Islam."

Rebecca Sharibu told the Associated Press that her 15-year-old daughter refused.

"Her friends said they tried to convince her but she said she will not convert to Islam," the girl's mother says. "Boko Haram said since she will not convert to Islam she should remain behind. That was how they left her."

Leah Sharibu asked her departing Muslim classmates to pray for her.

Buhari's statement said "true followers of Islam all over the world respect the injunction that there is no compulsion in religion." He added that he looked forward to meeting with the girls who were freed.

Also Thursday, the father of one of the five schoolgirls still unaccounted for said he has been told his daughter and others are dead and buried.
Maj.-Gen. Rogers Nicholas, commander in charge of the operation to rescue the Dapchi girls, carries one of them as others wait to board a plane at the air force base in Maiduguri on Wednesday. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

Inuwa Garba told The Associated Press that friends of his daughter who were freed told him the 16-year-old died from injuries in the frightened stampede that occurred during the mass abduction in Dapchi a month ago.

"They told me five of the girls died and my daughter, who was among them, was the first to die" the day the girls were seized, Garba said. The survivors told him the bodies were buried in the bush.

"I believe what the girls told me because they were all together and saw what happened," he said.

On Wednesday, one 14-year-old released by the fighters told reporters that five girls had died but did not provide details.

One of the freed girls, Khadija Grema, has said a Christian classmate remained captive, while those released are Muslim.

"We were freed because we are Muslim girls and they didn't want us to suffer. That is why they released us," she said.

The freed girls were taken to the capital, Abuja, later Wednesday.

Deaths reported by classmate

The Boko Haram extremists brought back the girls they had kidnapped from a boarding school, dropping them off with a warning: "Don't ever put your daughters in school again." Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language.

The abductions in Dapchi have evoked painful memories of the tragedy in Chibok, where 276 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school. Nearly four years later, about 100 of them have never returned home. Many had been forced to marry their captors and had children fathered by them.

The Nigerian government denies that it paid a ransom or made a prisoner swap in exchange for the Dapchi girls' freedom. Both occurred before the largest release of Chibok schoolgirls last year.

The latest mass abduction is thought to have been carried out by a Boko Haram splinter group aligned with the Islamic State group that has criticized the leader of the main Boko Haram organization for targeting civilians and has focused instead on military and Western targets.

Nigeria's government under Buhari has repeatedly claimed victory over Boko Haram in recent months but the extremists continue to carry out deadly suicide bombings in the north, often using young women who have been abducted and indoctrinated.

The Dapchi mass abduction has caused a fresh round of outrage, especially about the protection of schools in a region where Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people over nearly a decade.

The release of the girls came a day after an Amnesty International report accused the Nigerian military of failing to heed several warnings of the imminent attack on Feb. 19 during which the girls were seized. The military has called the report an "outright falsehood."