Kidnapped schoolgirls plead with president to free them
Nigeria's president has been sent a new video of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in which they beg him to spare their lives through a prisoner swap.
A source with Boko Haram contacts said the video was handed to President Goodluck Jonathan's office by an intermediary who started dialogue with the Islamist group two weeks ago.
The intermediary, a Nigerian journalist, obtained the video as a way of proving to Mr Jonathan's office that he had authentic lines of communication.
The source claimed that a subsequent deal to release the girls – planned for a week ago on Monday – was scrapped after Western governments placed pressure on Mr Jonathan not to negotiate for any prisoner swap.
The deal would allegedly have led to the release of about 50 of the estimated 250 girls in exchange for an equivalent number of Boko Haram fighters currently in jail.
The Nigerian government has denied that any deal was on the table and so far has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the video.
Claims of the video's existence emerged as Air Marshal Alex Badeh, Nigeria's chief of defence staff, claimed that the military knew where the girls were located. Speaking late on Monday, he described it as "good news for the parents" but said that the military would not risk "going there with force".
He declined to give specific details, raising speculation about the accuracy of his claims.
The Nigerian military has made several unsubstantiated statements in the past over the girls. Previous military attempts to free hostages have led to the prisoners being killed by their abductors, including two engineers, a Briton and an Italian, in Sokoto in March 2012.
The Nigerian journalist who is said to have obtained the latest video was named by the source as Ahmed Salkida, who is from the north-east state of Borno, Boko Haram's main stronghold. His contacts with the Islamists have been so close that in the past he has been arrested on suspicion of being a sympathiser. Two years ago, he moved with his family to Dubai. (© Daily Telegraph, London)