A woman carries a sign as she attends a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos May 9, 2014. Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
One of the teenagers who escaped from Islamic extremists who abducted more than 300 schoolgirls said Sunday the kidnapping was "too terrifying for words," and she is scared to go back to school.
Science student Sarah Lawan, 19, told The Associated Press that more of the girls could have escaped but that they were frightened by their captors' threats to shoot them.
Lawan spoke in the Hausa language in a phone interview from Chibok, her home and the site of the mass abduction in northeast Nigeria. The failure to rescue 276 of the students who remain captive four weeks later has attracted mounting national and international outrage.
"I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me," she said. "Now I cry each time I came across their parents and see how they weep when they see me."
Police say 53 students had escaped and captors are threatening to sell the students still held into slavery.
Lawan spoke as more experts are expected in Nigeria to help in the search, including U.S. hostage negotiators. Nigeria's government belatedly accepted offers of help last week from the United States, Britain, France, China and Spain.
In churches across the nation, Nigerians prayed for the girls, whose plight has brought together ordinary people in a year that had seen growing dissension between Muslims and Christians, disagreements exacerbated by the increasingly deadly attacks of the Boko Haram terrorist network. Africa's most populous nation of 170 million has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.
The Rev. Stephen Omale prayed at a church in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
"Wherever they are, God will bring them out in his own mercy, he will see that they are brought out safely, without harm and also that this act will bring an end to all those who are perpetrating these acts," he told congregants.
Search efforts harshly criticized
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday international military and intelligence assistance made him optimistic about finding the students.
Israel became the latest country to offer help to Nigeria since the April 14 abduction.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office gave no details of its proposed assistance but Jonathan said Netanyahu offered during a phone conversation to send a team of counter-terrorism experts.
The United States and Britain have flown in experts and this, coupled with the deployment by Nigeria of two army divisions to the border region, signals that the search effort is gathering pace.
But it comes against a backdrop of sharp criticism of Jonathan's government for responding too slowly to the crisis.
"Nigeria would be pleased to have Israel's globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations," said a statement from State House in Abuja.
Jonathan is "very optimistic that with the entire international community deploying its considerable military and intelligence-gathering skills and assets in support of Nigeria's efforts ... success will soon be achieved," it said.
French President Francois Hollande on Sunday offered to host a summit in Paris next Saturday with Nigeria and its neighbours focused on the militant group.
"With Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, I have proposed to hold a meeting with the countries bordering Nigeria," Hollande said during a visit to the Azeri capital, Baku.
The leaders of Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger might also attend and Britain, the European Union and the United States would likely be represented as well, Hollande's aides said.
A campaign on social media using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has stoked concern over the kidnappings, which have touched a chord because of the vulnerability of the girls and the brutality of the attackers.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau this month threatened to sell the girls "in the market," deepening concern about their fate.
U.S. president's wife Michelle Obama on Saturday called the attack an "unconscionable act."
Around 100 people protested in Unity Park in central Abuja on Sunday over the girls, chanting: "Bring back our girls now and alive." Scores of police watched the rally in a city that has seen dozens killed in two attacks in the last month.
"The government might see it (this protest) as an embarrassment but we have the right to gather. This is not about painting Africa in a bad light," Rotimi Ozawale, a spokesman for daily protests, told Reuters.
Sold or forced into marriage
There are reports that some of the girls have been forced into marriage with their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12, and that some have been carried across borders into Cameroon and Chad.
U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel cautioned that it is "going to be very difficult" to find the missing girls. In an interview with ABC's "This Week" that aired Sunday, he said " It's a vast country... But we're going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government."
Lawan, the escapee, said other girls who escaped later have told her that the abductors spoke of their plans to marry them.
She said the thought of going back to school terrifies her — either the burned out ruins of Chibok Government Girls Secondary School or any other school.
"I am really scared to go back there; but I have no option if I am asked to go because I need to finish my final year exams which were stopped half way through."
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