US, UK teams in Nigeria to help find kidnapped girls

2014-05-09 15:25
A woman attends a mass-demonstration calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue hundreds of missing kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chibok, in Lagos, Nigeria. (Sunday Alamba, AP)

A woman attends a mass-demonstration calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue hundreds of missing kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chibok, in Lagos, Nigeria. (Sunday Alamba, AP)

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Abuja - US and British experts have arrived in Nigeria to help in the hunt for more than 200 schoolgirls whose abduction last month by Islamists prompted universal outrage.

The US embassy in Abuja told AFP on Friday that a team of American experts had arrived in Nigeria, without specifying the make up of the group.

US officials have previously said Washington would send military personnel as well as specialists from the Justice Department and the FBI to help search for the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram group on 14 April in the north-eastern town of Chibok.

British specialists, including defence ministry personnel, also landed in Nigeria's capital on Friday, the foreign office said.

France and China have also offered satellite imaging equipment to help find the girls whose kidnapping has drawn condemnation worldwide and raised awareness about an Islamist uprising that has killed thousands since 2009.

Nigeria had initially been slow to respond to the kidnappings and the military's search and rescue effort has been fiercely criticised by activists and parents of the hostages.

But a series of protests in the capital, a growing social media campaign, and attention from world leaders and celebrities has put pressure on Nigeria to act more aggressively.

Nigeria has in the past resisted security cooperation with the West, experts said, but amid outrage over the plight of the hostages, President Goodluck Jonathan's administration this week welcomed offers of help from world powers.

Unprecedented brutality

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Friday said that aside from the kidnappings which have captured global attention, focus needed to remain on Boko Haram's wider insurgency.

"The brutality and frequency of (the group's) attacks is unprecedented," UNHCR said in a statement.

Most of the group's recent violence has been concentrated in the remote northeast, where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago, and where more than 1,600 people have already been killed this year.

Attacks in Borno state have at times seemed a weekly occurrence this year, with defenceless civilians the most frequent victims.

"Some have witnessed friends or family members being randomly singled out and killed in the streets," UNHCR said.

"People speak of homes and fields being burned to the ground, with villages completely razed, or grenades being launched into crowded markets killing people and livestock," the statement added.

Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create a strict Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.

Some in the deeply conservative northeast have voiced support for a society governed by sharia, or Islamic law.

But experts say that any public support Boko Haram may have once had in the region has been largely destroyed by its ruthless campaign against civilians.

The most recent massacre by the group killed hundreds in the north-eastern town of Gamboru Ngala, on the Cameroon border.

Islamist gunmen razed much of the town and fired indiscriminately on civilians as they tried to flee, burning entire families in their homes.

A turning point?

Addressing a World Economic Forum summit in Abuja on Thursday, Jonathan said the Chibok kidnappings would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, calling it "the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria."

Nigeria's failure to contain the violence has raised questions as to whether the country can eliminate Boko Haram without outside help.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and top economy, with by far the largest defence budget in west Africa, but its military has been widely accused of committing serious rights abuses, while its competence has been criticised.

Some have voiced hope that collaborating on the hostage rescue may improve Nigeria's broader capacity to defeat Boko Haram.

Britain's foreign office said that aside from working to rescue the hostages, its team, "working closely with their US counterparts", would also be focused on "longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram".
Read more on:    boko haram  |  us  |  uk  |  nigeria  |  nigeria kidnappings  |  abductions  |  west africa
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