MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — A new clue about the fate of hundreds of girls kidnapped by an Islamist extremist group in Nigeria emerged Monday with the release of a video apparently showing many of the girls and new threats to “sell them” and “hold them as slaves” until Boko Haram members are released from prison.
If genuine, it would be the first public glimpse of the girls since they were seized on April 14 from a school in Chibok, an isolated village some 80 miles from this regional capital in Nigeria’s far northeast, where an Islamist insurgency has bedeviled the authorities for years.
The video shows dozens of girls dressed in hijabs — head scarves and long gowns that cover their bodies but reveal their faces. They are praying and seated cross-legged in the type of scrub land that is pervasive in this region, not far from the Sahara.
One of the girls is shown reciting the opening of the Koran; three express allegiance to Islam; two say they had converted from Christianity.
It was impossible to fully authenticate the video, and one parent reached in Chibok said nobody there had seen it because there is no electricity, much less Internet access.
The video contains a disjointed, ranting message from Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, in Hausa and Arabic. In it, he acknowledges the worldwide attention the kidnappings have drawn.
“Just because we kidnapped these young girls, you are making noise? Allah has blessed most of them with accepting Islam,” he says. “You are making so much noise about Chibok, Chibok, Chibok. Only Allah knows how many women we are holding.”
He repeated the slavery threat he made in a video released a week ago. “There are many verses in the Koran that allows the seizing of slaves. Abduction of slaves is allowed,” he said. “It exists.’’
The schools in this region had been closed for weeks before the kidnapping because of Boko Haram attacks. But the girls had come back to the Chibok government school to take an exam and were staying overnight.
The Islamists overpowered what little police protection the town had and seized more than 300 girls. About 50 were later able to flee their captors.
A worldwide effort has begun to try to rescue them, with the United States, France, Britain and most recently Israel pledging to help. The Nigerian military has waged an aggressive, at times brutal, offensive in the region, but so far it has proved unable to make any advances toward the girls’ recovery.
In Monday’s video, Shekau apparently offered a hint about what might induce him to release the girls from Boko Haram’s clutches.
“We will never release them until our brethren are released,” he said. “Our brethren that are held in Borno, in Yobe, in Kano, in Kaduna, in Abuja, in Lagos and Enugu. Our brethren that are held all over Nigeria,” Shekau said.
The Nigerian government has not acknowledged any negotiation with the group, though one high official in the north has said some type of bargaining appears to be going on.
It is not known how many suspected Boko Haram members are detained by security forces. Hundreds were killed last month when Shekau’s fighters stormed the military’s main northeastern barracks in Maiduguri, the terror group’s birthplace and the headquarters of a year-old military state of emergency to put down the 5-year-old Islamic uprising.
The United States put a $7 million ransom on Shekau last year.
The US team assisting in the search for the girls consists of some 30 people drawn from the State and Defense departments, the White House said Monday. Among them are five State Department officials, two strategic communications experts, a civil security expert, and a regional medical support officer. Four FBI officials with expertise in safe recovery, negotiations, and preventing future kidnappings are also part of the group.
The Pentagon said 16 Defense Department personnel were on the team, including planners and advisers who were already in Nigeria and have been redirected to assist the government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said US intelligence experts were ‘‘combing over every detail’’ of the latest recording. He said administration officials have “no reason to question its authenticity.’’
The Nigerian government said it was reviewing the video and would ‘‘continue to explore all options for the release and safe return of our girls back to their homes.’’
Pogu Bitrus, a Chibok town leader, said vegetation in the video looked like that of the Sambisa Forest, some 20 miles from Chibok, the Associated Press reported.
French President Francois Hollande invited leaders from Nigeria and neighboring Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, as well as representatives of Britain, the European Union, and the United States, to a summit on Saturday to focus on Boko Haram, terrorism, and insecurity in West Africa.
A French official said Jonathan had agreed to attend. He spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the gathering have not been finalized.