The Nigerian armed group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls during a raid in the village of Chibok in northeast Nigeria last month, the AFP news agency reported, citing a video it had obtained.
"I abducted your girls," the group's leader Abubakar Shekau said on Monday in the 57-minute video obtained by the agency, referring to the hundreds of students kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno state, on April 14.
"By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace," he said in the video that starts with fighters lofting automatic rifles and shooting in the air as they chant "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great."
Boko Haram allegedly stormed the all-girl secondary school, then packed the teenagers, who had been taking exams, onto trucks and disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon.
Boko Haram, now seen as the main security threat to Africa's leading energy producer, is growing bolder and extending its reach.
The apparent lack of capability of the military to prevent the Chibok attack or rescue the abducted girls after three weeks has triggered anger and protests in the northeast and in the capital Abuja.
Protest leader arrested
In a separate development, a leader of a protest march in support of the schoolgirls has said that Nigeria's First Lady ordered her and another protest leader to be arrested, expressing doubts that there had been any kidnapping and accused them of belonging to the group blamed for the abductions.
Saratu Angus Ndirpaya said state security service agents drove her and protest leader Naomi Mutah Nyadar to a police station on Monday after an all-night meeting at the presidential villa in Abuja, the capital.
She said police immediately released her but that Nyadar remained in detention.
A national police spokesman referred a journalist to the spokeswoman for police in Abuja. Reached on the phone, the spokeswoman said she was driving and could not immediately respond, the AP news agency reported.
Other reports said three women had been arrested on Sunday night.
Ndirpaya said First Lady Patience Jonathan accused them of fabricating the abductions.
"She [Jonathan] told so many lies, that we just wanted the government of Nigeria to have a bad name, that we did not want to support her husband's rule," she said in a telephone interview with AP.
Ndirpaya said other women at the meeting cheered and chanted "yes, yes," when the First Lady accused them of belonging to Boko Haram.
"They said we are Boko Haram, and that Mrs Nyadar is a member of Boko Haram."
She said Nyadar and herself do not have daughters among those abducted, but were supporting the mothers of the kidnapped daughters.
Fifty-three of the girls managed to escape from the fighters, who want to introduce Islamic law in the country, but 223 were still being held, state police said last Friday.
The mass abduction and failure to rescue the girls, now in a fourth week of captivity, is a source of deep embarrassment to the Nigerian government, which is accused of insensitivity to the girls' plight and not doing enough to rescue them.
In a televised "media chat" on Sunday night, Presdent Goodluck Jonathan promised his administration was doing everything possible and called for international help to find the girls.
On Friday, he created a presidential committee to go to Borno state to work with the community on a strategy for the release of the girls.