Watch Above: Hundreds of girls kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria three weeks ago are still being held captive. Jennifer Tryon reports.
Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted on April 14 were taken by the Islamic insurgent group Boko Haram and are to be sold as “slaves,” the group’s leader said in a newly released video.
Boko Haram was suspected of kidnapping the girls from the northern Nigeria town of Chibok three weeks ago, but this is the first time leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility.
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Shekau said in a video obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He went on to say the mass kidnapping caused outrage “because we are holding people (as) slaves,” AFP reported.
He also said “Western education should fold up,” and that he “will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine.”
WATCH: Leader of Boko Haram vows to sell abducted girls in a market
Police on Friday raised the number of girls being held to 276, saying more than 300 were kidnapped. But AFP is reporting 276 teenage girls were taken and 223 are still in captivity.
Fifty-three girls are reported to have escaped their abductors in the days following the assault on the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, in Borno state.
The leader of a group of local elders raised concerns last week the girls had been sold as brides.
Pogo Bitrus told media he had learned of reports some girls had been sold as brides to militants for 2,000 naira, equivalent to about CDN $13.
Bitrus also said some girls may have been taken across the Nigerian border, into Chad and Cameroon. His claims have not been verified.
In the three weeks since the abduction, protests across Nigeria have called on the government to rescue the girls.
President Goodluck Jonathan appeared on television Sunday, saying it “is a trying time for this country.”
He said that he understood the outrage over the girls’ kidnapping and that the country is “justified if they expressed their anger against government.”
WATCH: Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck said Monday that security forces have been “checking everywhere” for the abducted girls
An online campaign using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has helped keep attention on the missing girls.
Jonathan’s wife, Patience Jonathan, was accused of ordering the arrests of two protesters.
READ MORE: Protester: Nigeria’s 1st Lady orders arrests
“She told so many lies, that we just wanted the government of Nigeria to have a bad name, that we did not want to support her husband’s rule,” protester Saratu Angus Ndirpaya said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The failure to locate the girls has become an embarrassment for the Nigerian government, which has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency for five years.
President Jonathan said he has asked the U.S. for help tracking down the Boko Haram militants who are holding the girls captive.
Speaking in Ethiopia on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said his government would “do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice.”
“That is our responsibility and the world’s responsibility,” Al Jazeera reported Kerry saying.
WATCH: Relatives of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls say government isn’t doing enough to locate them
Boko Haram formed in 2002. But in the past five years it has become more violent, carrying out a string of abductions and deadly attacks, mostly in northern regions of the country.
According to The Associated Press, there have been at least 1,500 deaths as a result of Boko Haram-related violence this year alone. It’s estimated Boko Haram has killed as many as 10,000 people since 2002.
The name loosely translates from the Hausa language to mean “Western education is forbidden” or “Western education is a sin.”
With files from The Associated Press
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this post state it’s estimated Boko Haram has killed as many as 10,000 people since 2009. That estimate is the number of people Boko Haram is believed to have killed since 2002.
© Shaw Media, 2014