Nigerian authorities ‘know where kidnapped girls are being held’

Nigerian authorities said they know the location of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic militants Boko Haram but have ruled out storming their hideout to free them.

There was a high risk that girls still held by the group could be killed during any such rescue attempt, the country’s highest ranking military officer told state media.

“The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you,” said Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.

“But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”

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Seven weeks after 276 girls were snatched from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok, Mr Badeh’s comments offered a glimmer of hope to parents of the 223 who are still missing.

However, he told a group of demonstrators that he could not give any further details as the operation was a “military secret”.

Nigerian authorities have been heavily criticised for their slow response to the mass abduction of 276 girls from their school, and their initial refusal to accept foreign help.

Britain, the US, France and China are now all assisting in a large scale search including surveillance drones, focusing on the Sambisa forest where parents say the girls were last seen.

However, little detail has been released as to what the military are doing and how the operation is progressing. in a forest the size of Rwanda.

There are also reports that many of the girls have been sold as child brides for as little as £12.

Mr Badeh made the comments after addressing a group of protesters taking part in a daily march on the defence headquarters in Abuja in an attempt to maintain pressure on the government.

Attempting to head off criticism, he told them: “Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it’s doing. We know what we are doing.”

He said that the military faced a dilemma over whether to send in troops to attack the kidnappers, who are known to be merciless killers.

A senior Nigerian military chief last week reported that they had been tracking the girls since April 26, but might need another week to rescue them.

It was reported yesterday that a deal to release the girls in exchange for Boko Haram prisoners had been called off by the Nigerian government at the last minute.

The president of the Senate, David Mark, the country’s No 3, said over the weekend: “This government cannot negotiate with criminals and … will not exchange people for criminals.”