Parents of more than 230 girls abducted from their boarding school by Nigerian Islamists linked to al-Qaeda have had to call off the search for their daughters because of a lack of police back-up.

Several described how they were forced to carry out their own search without help from authorities, but had to pull back when they were close to where they believe the hostages were being held, in a dense forest.

"We formed a search party, riding on motorcycles into the forest, searching several places until a man gave us information that he saw our girls with the abductors ahead," said Shettima Haruna. "The man actually told us that our children were not far away. But he warned that the abductors were well armed and kill at will, so we decided to save our lives and returned."

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Another father, Shettima Hamma, said: "We trailed the abductors of our daughters far into very dangerous places inside the forest, but we couldn't go further because we have no sophisticated weapons that could match that of those holding our daughters."

No one has claimed responsibility for the April 14 attack on the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, in northern Nigeria, but Boko Haram is suspected. The group, which has ties to al-Qaeda's Saharan and Somali proxies, is fighting for strict Islamic law to be introduced across Nigeria's north, which is majority Muslim but moderate. Its name means "Western education is sinful".

More than 1,500 people have died in the conflict this year, including 75 in a car bomb on the day of the abduction.

Borno state governor Kashim Shettima, centre, visits the school where gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria. Photo / AP

The event is a major embarrassment for Nigeria's military, which announced last week that security forces had rescued all but eight of those kidnapped, but was then was forced to retract the statement.

Musa Muka's 17-year-old daughter Martha was preparing to sit her O-Levels. "I have not seen my dear daughter, she is a good girl, we plead with government to help rescue her and her friends; we pray nothing happens to her," Mr Muka said.