Video: Boko Haram proposes swap for abducted girls

The leader of Boko Haram has proposed a swap for more than 200 girls abducted from a government school in Nigeria, but it may do more harm than good to accept. The terrorist group wants to trade the release of the girls after the release of jailed members of the network from Nigerian prisons. The demand came in this video published by AFP earlier today:

The leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram said in a video Monday that he would free more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in exchange for the release of militant prisoners.

In a recording obtained by Agence France-Presse, Abubakar Shekau claimed the girls had been converted to Islam.

Dozens of girls were shown wearing full veils and praying in the video, whose contents could not immediately be independently verified by NBC News.

“These girls have become Muslims,” Shekau said in the 17-minute recording, according to a translation from AFP. “We will never release them until after you release our brethren.”

The good news is that the girls appear to have mostly remained together. Some of the analysts feared that the terrorists would disperse their hostages to make them more difficult to track, and also worried that many of them may have already been sold off into slavery. Perhaps the international attention that the case has drawn made that more difficult than Boko Haram anticipated, or that they lack the resources for dispersal. Last week, the leader just bragged about selling the girls into slavery, so something appears to have changed.

Most countries have a no-negotiation policy with terrorist groups, and this situation is one reason for that. If Nigeria negotiates a swap for the girls, Boko Haram will know what to do when they need their colleagues sprung from custody. Nigeria may get these girls back in this kind of trade — maybe, depending on whether terrorists can be trusted to keep their word — but they may put the rest of the country’s girls in greater danger by making them a currency in extortion. It in effect legitimizes terrorism as a strategy, and once rewarded, Nigeria will see a lot more of these abductions in the future.

However, that’s reasonable enough in theory. The government of Goodluck Jonathan has already come under severe pressure and considerable scorn for not doing enough for these girls in the first place. A swap that gets the girls back may be worth it to send the rest of the world packing, at least from their perspective.