On the night of April 12, 2014, 14-year-old Miriam was jolted from sleep by the sound of a door being kicked in. She knew what it meant: Boko Haram had arrived. She dove under a pile of clothes in a corner of her room and watched as armed men dragged her father and her two teenage brothers out of the house. The rapid gunfire that followed told her that they were dead.
The men then returned for Miriam, her mother, and her five-year-old brother. Scores of other young women and girls from her village, six other young boys, and Miriam were forced into waiting vehicles. As they drove out of the village, she wondered if she would ever see her home again.
Miriam, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, lived in the village of Marnaghafai, in northeastern Nigeria, where the militant Islamist group Boko Haram has operated since 2010. The group has killed an estimated 8,000 civilians, and another one million people have been forced to flee their homes. Since last year, the group has expanded to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The Boko Haram hallmark is brutal violence: suicide bombings, mass murder, forced conscription of young men and boys, and the destruction of villages, towns, churches, markets, and schools.
But Boko Haram is perhaps best known for its widespread abduction of women and girls—an estimated 2,000 since 2009. The captives are raped, forced to marry Boko Haram fighters and convert to Islam, and, sometimes, brainwashed to become suicide bombers. The captives include the 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, whose abduction on April 14, 2014, sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and galvanized global outrage.
Last week, Nigeria’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, visited Washington to meet U.S. President Barack Obama and
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