A suspected suicide bomber intercepted in northern Cameroon on Friday before she could blow herself up claimed to be one of 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in the Nigerian town of Chibok in 2014, military and local government sources said.
Two girls carrying explosives were stopped by local self-defense forces in the village of Limani, in an area of northern Cameroon that has been the target of frequent suicide bombings in recent months.
They were then handed over to Cameroonian soldiers belonging to a multi-national force set up to take on Boko Haram.
In a high-profile attack that sparked a global outcry, Boko Haram militants raided the school in April 2014 while the girls were taking exams. They loaded 270 of them onto trucks, though around 50 escaped shortly afterwards.
“One of them indeed declared that she is one of the Chibok hostages. She is around 15. We are now verifying, because on the Nigerian side they have the names and photos of these girls,” said local government administrator Raymond Roksdo.
Two military sources, who asked not to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the press, also confirmed that the girl had claimed to have been one of the Chibok abductees.
“We need a few days to be able to confirm this information. We have to debrief all the men who were present and interrogate the two girls before we can say anything,” one of the military sources said.
Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was criticized for his slow reaction to the Chibok abductions, seen by many as indicative of his response to Boko Haram, which at its strongest held large swathes of northeastern Nigeria.
It was nearly a month before a fact-finding committee traveled to Chibok to establish whether the abduction actually happened and how many girls were missing.
Muhammadu Buhari, who defeated Jonathan in an election last year, ordered a new investigation into the kidnappings in January.
Joint operations between Nigeria and its neighbors Niger, Chad and Cameroon succeeded in driving Boko Haram from many of its strongholds in Nigeria last year.
However, as an 8,700-strong regional task force seeks to stamp them out once and for all, the Islamists have stepped up cross-border attacks and suicide bombings, many of them carried out by young girls.
Reuters: (Additional reporting by Josiane Kouagheu; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Hugh Lawson)