Although U.S. intelligence officials think the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last month have been split up and taken out of the country, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said Friday that he believes they are still in Nigeria. Jonathan said that although there are stories saying the girls have been moved out of Nigeria, it would not be possible to move that many girls to Cameroon without being noticed.
The Nigerian president was speaking on the sidelines at the World Economic Form in Nigeria, designed to as a platform to highlight investment opportunities in Africa’s biggest economy. The event has been dominated by the girls’ kidnapping and the threat of militant attacks.
Nearly 300 schoolgirls have been kidnapped by the militant group, who said in a video released on Monday that it plans to sell them. In the video leader of the group Abubkar Shekau called for an end to Western education, and said girls should “go and get married.” Boko Haram translates in the local Hausa language to mean “Western education is sinful.” Just Sunday night, at least eight more girls between the ages of 12 and 15 were kidnapped from the village of Warabe, after gunmen went door-to-door in the small village, beating anyone who tried to stop them.
It appears that Boko Haram is beginning to target those searching for the girls. On Monday they attacked the city of Gamboru Ngala, which has been used as a base for troops involved in the search. Two special battalions dedicated to finding the missing girls have searched 250 locations by airplane and helicopter. However, despite the Nigerian president’s assurance that the kidnapped girls must still be in the country, most organizations admit they really have no idea where Boko Haram may have taken them.
Jonathan has now accepted an offer of help in the search from the U.S. military. A British team has also arrived in Nigeria and will be working closely with the U.S. in coordinating search efforts. China and France have also offered help. Jonathan, who was initially reluctant to accept outside help, has now thanked foreign nations for their support.
Plans for foreign assistance in the search include British satellites, possibly drones, and China has agreed to provide information gathered by its satellite network. Jonathan said his country is also working with experts that will use remote sensors to see the militants “wherever they are,” which he said implies that they are in the Sambisa area. Sambisa is a forest that is known as a Boko Haram hideout, located near the school from where the girls were abducted.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby has not detailed why U.S. officials believe the girls have been moved into neighboring countries, but says the search must include Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. He said that it is vital to find the girls before they are scattered across Africa. Despite Jonathan’s assurance that Boko Haram has not removed the kidnapped girls from the country, it appears obvious that the foreign forces coming to their aid will focus on a broader area than simply Nigeria.
By Beth A. Balen