Extremist group Boko Haram may begin the release of over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls as early as this week.
The Telegraph has reported information from a source close to the terrorist organisation – whose name means 'Western education is forbidden' – who claims that negotiations with Nigerian authorities have now reached some agreement.
276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, northern Nigeria on April 14. Their plight has gained international attention, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter and politicians, celebrities and activists alike calling for their release.
Both US President Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron have confirmed that specialist teams have been sent to Nigeria to assist authorities in the rescue effort. Currently the girls remain in captivity, over a month after they were taken.
A video emerged last week showing more than 100 of the girls wearing the full-length hijab and praying to Allah, chanting, "Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the world".
In the clip, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheka declared: "These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims."
He also announced that he would release the girls in exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram militants. "We will never release [the girls] until after you release our brethren," he asserted.
Initial reports suggested that the Nigerian government was refusing to engage in negotiations with the terrorists, though the aforementioned source has now refuted these claims. He told the Telegraph that "there are some on-the-ground talks taking place".
"An agreement was reached about two or three days ago in principle to start releasing some prisoners," he added.
However, though Boko Haram were initially calling for the release of some of their top-level members, they have now dropped this demand, instead agreeing to exchange the girls for some of the family members of their fighters who are being held by Nigerian authorities.
"The group also has a list of lower-level fighters that it wants released as well, but they are not high-profile ones," the source shared.
If the exchange goes ahead, a "gradual" release of around 100 girls will begin, possibly even this week, if the source is correct. He believes that the girls will be released in "small groups" and left in secure locations where they can be picked up by authorities.
At a summit held in Paris on Saturday, African leaders declared "total war" against Boko Haram, and measures were agreed to step up security against the Islamic extremists.
"Boko Haram is an organization that is linked to terrorism in Africa and whose will is to destabilize the north of Nigeria, certainly, and all the neighbouring countries of Nigeria and beyond that region," French President François Hollande, who hosted the summit, declared.
He also labelled the group "a major threat to West and Central Africa".