Published: 14:09 EST, 23 May 2014 | Updated: 21:05 EST, 23 May 2014
The schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamic militants have been sighted for the first time, it was reported locally last night.
More than 200 girls were snatched from their school five weeks ago by Boko Haram, a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda.
The girls have been tracked to three camps in the north of Nigeria, near Lake Chad, 200 miles from where they were abducted, senior officials told a Nigerian newspaper.
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More than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram five weeks aog have been spotted in camps near Lake Chad, nearly 200 miles from where they were last seen (file pic)
Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, has threatened he will sell the girls into the sex trade or as wives unless the government frees militants that have been jailed
Boko Haram demands prisoner swap for kidnapped girls
However, they added that it may still take a week to free the girls.
‘It has been a most difficult but heroic breakthrough,’ a senior military official told Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper.
Another added: 'Our team first sighted the girls on April 26 and we have been following their movement with the terrorists ever since.'
The development comes after 150 people were killed in bomb and gun attacks by the militants across the country this week.
On Tuesday night a double car bombing in a market in the central city of Jos killed at least 130 civilians, while two days later another 48 died when militants stormed and burned settlements near Chibok.
Boko Haram have killed more than 2,000 in terror attacks in the last 12 months in Nigeria, including 130 who died in the city of Jos on Tuesday when two car bombs detonated
Just two days after the bombings, another 48 people died when militants attacked settlements near Chibok, burning homes and looting possessions
Boko Haram attack survivor recounts killing of father, brother
Boko Haram released a video two weeks ago showing some of the abducted girls in veils and reciting from the Qu’ran, and claimed they had converted to Islam.
Their leader Abubakar Shekau offered to trade the girls for the release of prisoners, which was declined by the Nigerian government
Boko Haram's leaders had been threatening to sell the girls as brides for as little as £12, or force them to work in the sex trade if their demands were not met.
But as the beleaguered Nigerian military closed in on the kidnapped girls, US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared in the dark about the rescue mission.
John Kerry today claimed the US is the only country looking for the schoolgirls, despite the fact that both France and Britain have sent teams to help
Speaking to the State Department marking the 90th anniversary of the creation of the American diplomatic service, Mr Kerry said: 'And Boko Haram, Nigeria, only the United States is there offering the assistance to help find those young women.
According to The Telegraph, he added: 'Other countries not only aren’t there invited, but they didn’t even offer. That’s a difference, and I think it’s a difference worth dwelling on.'
The comments were made despite the fact that both English and French forces have been sent to the African state to assist in the rescue, including three teams of UK advisors, and an RAF search aircraft.
The Nigerian government recently voted to extend a state of emergency which has already been in place for a year as militants stepped up both the range and ferocity of their attacks.
More than 2,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram attacks in the last 12 months alone, compared to 3,600 in three years between 2010 and 2013.
Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is a sin’, is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state within Nigeria ruled by Sharia law.
The United Nations security council officially designated Boko Haram a terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda on Thursday, and imposed sanctions on it including an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban.
The Foreign Office declined to comment.