A vigil is being held outside the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC today as campaigners step up their call for the safe return of 276 girls kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Borno state on April 14.
The girls are believed to still be in the hands of Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic group which has caused over 1,500 deaths across Nigeria so far this year. A video was obtained by AFP news agency last week in which leader Abubakar Sheka claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and threatened to sell the girls.
A second video emerged on Monday in which over 100 girls, most of whom are from Christian families, are shown wearing the full-length hijab and praying to Allah, chanting, "Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world".
In the clip, Sheka declares: "These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims."
He also says that he will release the girls in exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram militants. "We will never release [the girls] until after you release our brethren," he contends.
During the vigil today, 276 flowers will be placed in front of the Nigerian Embassy and prayers and speeches will be made by various faith leaders and representatives of human rights organisations. Family members of the abducted girls will take part in the ceremony via internet streams.
"We stand in solidarity with all the kidnapped girls of Nigeria, their families and loved ones. We agree with Dr Martin Luther King when he says, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter'," said the Reverend Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defence Coalition and organiser of the vigil.
"We cannot be silent or indifferent when hundreds of young girls are kidnapped in full view of the world and threatened with being sold into slavery and trafficking. We must stand in the public square and shout with a loud prophetic voice, 'Bring back our girls'.
"These are not just the daughters of Nigeria but they are our daughters also."
He called on the Nigerian and US governments, as well as the international community, to use "very resource possible and leave no stone unturned" to secure the safe return of the girls.
"As we gather in prayer and public witness, we ask God to intervene and protect and return these girls to safety to their families," he said.
Founder and CEO of Stanton Healthcare, which runs women's charitable health clinics across the US, Brandi Swindell will also be taking part in the vigil. She said her "heart breaks" for those affected by the tragedy.
"Women around the world are specifically targeted for acts of violence and terror," she said.
"This attack on these young girls of Nigeria is an attack on all women throughout the world. As I gather in front of the Nigerian Embassy in prayer and public witness, I stand in solidarity with my sisters across the globe calling upon God for mercy and calling upon the nations of the world to treat all women with equality, human rights and justice.
"We cannot rest or be silent until they are safely returned home. Our message today is clear and simple. Bring back our girls!"
The vigil will begin at 9.15am local time on Wednesday. The Facebook group for the event can be found here
"We cannot be silent on this critical issue of human rights and justice!" it says.
"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."--Hebrews 13:3."