A mass abduction, even larger than the April 2014 raid on Chibok, Borno state, which brought Boko Haram to international visibility, occurred months later, Human Rights Watch alleges. However, out of fear of angering the Nigerian government, parents of the victims refused to report it.
The Agence France-Presse cites four eyewitnesses who corroborate the new Human Rights Watch report, which claims that months after the 2014 Chibok raid, Boko Haram jihadists attacked the nearby village of Damasak and abducted an estimated 500 people, 300 of whom are believed to be children. Another 200 villagers were reportedly killed in the struggle.
The four AFP witnesses are “a local government administrator, a local chief, another elder and a resident.” They all claim the attack occurred on November 24, 2014. They also all shared that, out of fear of upsetting the government of then-President Goodluck Jonathan, who denied reports of the raid publicly, they said nothing.
“Every parent was afraid to speak out,” the administration said. “We kept quiet on the kidnap out of fear of drawing the wrath of the government, which was already grappling with the embarrassment of the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls,” he added, noting that he had lost a seven-year-old child himself. The few who attempted to request aid from public officials were ignored, he claimed.
“Three hundred children have been missing for a year and yet there has been not a word from the Nigerian government,” senior Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch Mausi Segun said in a statement accompanying the report.
All 276 girls kidnapped from Chibok remain missing despite repeated assurances from the Jonathan government and, later, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari that they would be found and freed. Evidence exists indicating that Western intelligence officials knew of their whereabouts months after the abduction but were unable to coordinate a rescue plan that would not result in many of their deaths, so they opted against acting.
Damasak lies about 200 miles away from Chibok and has fallen victim to multiple Boko Haram raids and remained occupied by the group, now affiliated with the Islamic State, for much of 2015.
Damasak was first liberated from Boko Haram in March 2015. Chadian and Nigerien forces attacked the jihadists in their stronghold and caused them to flee. During their assessment of the town, they found a mass grave containing more than 100 decomposing bodies in the village. At the time, polls indicated that President Jonathan would be soundly reelected; as Nigeria continued to suffer Boko Haram attacks, citizens lost faith in Jonathan’s governance and elected Buhari president, who ran on a platform of zero tolerance for jihadi groups.
The foreign troops left Damasak shortly thereafter, and Nigerian troops did not immediately replace them as villagers began to return to their homes. The result was another mass kidnapping: “more than 400 women and children,” according to one witness. Another estimated more than 500 abducted. During the second Chadian liberation of Damasak, soldiers found 43 children hiding in silence in remote spots throughout the village, who initially refused to leave their hiding spaces when approached by soldiers, thinking them Boko Haram terrorists.
Nigerian soldiers finally came to Damasak, and in April 2015, found upwards of 400 more dead and decomposing bodies strewn throughout the town.
Boko Haram has strongly relied on its mass abductions to continue executing terrorist attacks in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Women and young girls are often used as suicide bombers, as their loose-fitting clothing can more easily hide and bomb, and, as women, they are less suspect than young men who might join the group. President Buhari has insisted that the increased number of instances of female suicide bombers detonating near mosques is a sign the group has lost much of its power, though the Buhari administration has warned residents to disregard a recently released video of Boko Haram head Abubakar Shekau alleging he will soon retire.
Officials still have no clues of the location of the missing Chibok girls. One apparent discovery – a ten-year-old would-be suicide bomber who claimed to be part of the Chibok group – was found to be lying, as she was too young to have been in the classrooms affected at the time and showed no signs of having ever attended a Western-style school.