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US offers help as more Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped

© AFP file picture

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-07

The US offered to send a team to help Nigeria find hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls as 11 more girls were taken on Tuesday, a day after Boko Haram claimed responsibility for kidnapping 276 girls last month and threatened to sell them.

Suspected Boko Haram militiamen kidnapped the girls from a village near one of their northeastern Nigeria strongholds overnight, police and witnesses said, as the United States offered to send a team of experts to Nigeria to help find the girls.

Lazarus Musa, a resident of the village of Warabe, told Reuters that the armed men had opened fire during the raid.

“They were many, and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army colour. They started shooting in our village,” Musa said by telephone from the village, which lies in the hilly area of Gwoza, Boko Haram’s main base.

A police source said the girls were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food.

“Many people tried to run behind the mountain but when they heard gun shots, they came back,” Musa said. “The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses.”

The latest abduction, of girls aged 12 to 15, brings to at least 231 the number of girls being held, sold or forced into marriage by the Islamist group. A total of 276 students were kidnapped April 14 from a boarding school in Chibok and some managed to escape, but at least 220 of those girls are still being held, according to police.

The kidnappings by the Islamists, who say they are fighting to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, have shocked a country long inured to the violence around the northeast.

Many Nigerians have criticised the government for being slow to respond to the abduction. The military’s inability to find the girls in three weeks has led to protests in both Abuja and Lagos, the commercial capital.

More demonstrations are expected on Tuesday in the capital, just as delegates will be collecting their badges to allow them entry to the hotel where the World Economic Forum meeting on Africa will be held from May 7-9.

On Wednesday, Nigerian police offered a $300,000 reward to anyone who can give credible information leading to the girls’ rescue.

US offers help

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened in a video released to AFP on Monday that he would sell the girls “in the market”.

"I kidnapped your daughters. I will sell them in the market in the name of Allah. There is a market to sell humans. Allah said I should sell them – he ordered me to sell them. I will sell these women,"  Shekau said in the almost hour-long video.

In a phone call to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered to send a team of US experts to help find the girls, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The State Department said Jonathan welcomed the offer.

Kerry said the United States "is ready to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support" the effort to find the girls, Psaki said, adding that details have to be worked out.

She said Washington has offered to set up a coordination cell at the US embassy in Abuja with US military personnel, law enforcement officials as well as experts in hostage situations.

Obama "has asked us and the secretary (Kerry) to do everything we can to help the Nigerian government find and free all these" girls, Psaki said.

The UN human rights office warned Tuesday that selling the schoolgirls into slavery may constitute a crime against humanity.

"We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. "These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity. The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families."

Boko Haram, the main security threat to Africa’s leading energy producer, is growing bolder and appears better armed than ever. April’s mass kidnapping occurred on the same day a rush-hour bomb blast – also claimed by Boko Haram – killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja, the first attack on the capital in two years.

A car bomb in the same area killed 19 people last week.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-06


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