The abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in mid-April finally came to world attention last month, since which time it has – quite properly – dominated world news headlines.

To make innocent schoolchildren pawns of war is unforgiveable and plumbs the very depths of depravity. The subsequent reports of the children suffering rape and beatings have shocked and appalled even the most hardened media cynics.

This atrocity was orchestrated by the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, an organization founded in 2002, which claims to be fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

In a video obtained by the AFP news agency, the leader of Boko Haram, the swaggering, Abubakar Shekau, admitted responsibility for the abduction of the schoolgirls saying it planned to sell them as slaves. There have also been reports of some girls having been forced into “marriage” with Boko Haram fighters and, more recently, of an exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram fighters.

Video pictures of around 130 of the schoolgirls, almost all of whom were raised in Christian families, have been released to the media, showing them dressed in hijab and chanting verses from the Koran. “We have liberated these girls, you claim to care so much about,” boasted Abubakar Shekau, “they have become Muslim.”

Egypt’s prestigious Islamic institute Al-Azhar called for the immediate release of all the girls, warning Boko Haram that harming even a single one of them: “completely contradicts the teachings of Islam and its tolerant principles.”

But, with the exception of Al-Azhar, official comment from the Arab world has been slow to emerge. The US is flying manned surveillance missions over Nigeria to try to locate the schoolgirls and sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerian government, officials have confirmed. An offer of help by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has also been accepted by the Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck.

It is vital that the Arab world, the one that represents real Muslims, not crazed fanatics like Boko Haram – who represent nothing but their own greedy, selfish lust for wealth and power – now sends out a strong message of solidarity with those who seek to find and punish the extremist group. This is no time for internecine squabbling between Arab states. To protest is not anti-Islamic. The integrity of the real Islam is not in question, just those groups who wish to hijack the religion for their own self-serving purpose. The Koran is clear on the subject of nurturing and protecting all children; whatever these men of Boka Haram profess to be, for sure they are not men of God.

Pat Lancaster, Editor

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