The Terror Behind the Hashtag: Kidnapped Girls Warn World About Boko Haram

WASHINGTON -- The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls springs from the best of intentions: a grass-roots awareness effort to stoke international outrage about 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno.

"Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls," tweeted Hillary Clinton on Sunday.

With hashtags and street protests, people around the world and throughout U.S. political and activist circles issued tweets calling the "stolen" girls an "outrage" and a "disgrace," demanding answers while infrequently mentioning the obvious root of the Nigerian families' anguish: Boko Haram. A CNN anchor said Monday the story was not about the abductors, as if it was an isolated school shooting in which the perpetrator's name shouldn't be glorified.

The teenage girls are the canaries in the coal mine, warning a world that just might be ready to listen that Nigeria hardly has the control over al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram that it claims. The criticized dithering response of the Nigerian government is unfortunately matched by an international response that correctly brands the insurgents as misogynistic and nihilist, but tucks under the rug the world's lack of response to the explosive al-Qaeda threat in North Africa.

Scores of villagers around Lake Chad have witnessed convoys and canoe transportation ferrying  girls to locations in Cameroon and Chad after border weddings with Boko Haram terrorists. The price each of the terrorists paid for a bride was reportedly 2,000 Nigerian Naira: $12.52 in U.S. currency.

It's a shocking example of Boko Haram's brutality, and while the girls' tragedy has managed to get coverage beyond Africa they are, sadly, not the first school viciously attacked by the group dubbed Nigeria's Taliban.

On July 6, 2013, Boko Haram attacked the Yobe State School in Mamundo, killing 42 students and staff. On Sept. 29, 44 students and teachers were slain in a dormitory attack at the College of Agriculture in Gujba, with Boko Haram terrorists opening fire as they slept. On Feb. 25, 43 boys between the ages of 10 and 16 were hacked and shot to death in an attack on a school in Buni Yadi as an undetermined number of female students were kidnapped.

Seminaries are another favorite target of Boko Haram, such as the March attack on the St. Joseph Catholic Minor Seminary School in Maiduguri.

"Our Vice Rector, Fr Joshua Ijah, gathered us in a place and prayed for us and quickly told us we had to flee the school as Boko Haram were coming. Everybody was terrified. What if they intercepted us while running or open fire on us in the bush? Many of us had asked, but there was no time for answer. Our vice just yelled at us saying, ‘Just run for your lives because time is running out. God will protect you,'" a 16-year-old survivor of the attack told Nigeria's Sun newspaper.

Indeed, the barbarian horde wing of al-Qaeda has been plowing across Nigeria, in and out of porous borders, with little resistance and even fewer hashtag campaigns. In March, the Nigerian military said it would not allow Boko Haram to acquire air power, a reassurance to the public that only served to stoke fears that the Qaeda-allied force was seizing airspace. And as the Nigerian government admitted three weeks after a kidnapping that it couldn't track down hundreds of schoolgirls, a chilling picture unfolded of just how out of control terror is in northern Africa.

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video obtained Monday by Agence France-Presse, stressing that the terror group has called for Western education to end and "girls, you should go and get married."

"There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women," he continued in the Hausa-language part of the video.

“Boko Haram’s disgusting announcement shows a criminal disregard for the most fundamental of human rights," Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking co-chairmen Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Sadly, while this event is tragically large in scope, it is neither new to Nigeria nor isolated to that corner of the globe. Human trafficking is a horrific reality faced by more than a million children around the world annually, and we will continue the fight to combat it both at home and abroad.”

Dutch intelligence firm Ultrascan HUMINT, which closely follows Boko Haram, noted in April that the terror group "is not just a local insurgency but a movement with a strong brand name that promises to fight the sin of non-Islamic education."

"A much broader notion, easy to identify with and potentially inspiring Muslims across the globe," the firm added, noting that they're taking the al-Qaeda 2.0 philosophy of "think globally, act locally" to heart. "...Until today the Government has no clue about who, what and where Boko Haram is and it desperately tries to downplay the clear and present danger of Boko Haram."

Indeed, Shekau has repeatedly warned in recent videos that "we are everywhere in your cities."

Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked what the U.S. was doing to cooperate with Nigeria in battling Boko Haram. "I will have to take the question because I just don’t have information on that today, but I can certainly take the question and provide it to you," he replied. "State Department would have more on it for you."

Today, Carney was more forthcoming, noting "our counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria focuses on information-sharing, on improving Nigeria's forensics and investigative capacity."

"It also stresses the importance of protecting civilians and ensuring that human rights are protected and respected," he said, underscoring the criticism Washington has heaped on the Nigerian government in the past few years for its counterterrorism operations.