Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted President Obama’s offer Tuesday to help in the rescue of over 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram– just as reports emerged that the group had abducted eight more girls from another remote village.
The Obama administration reportedly already had a military presence in Nigeria, working with the French and Nigerians to use unarmed drones to gather intelligence. Now the U.S. will send additional military, intelligence and law enforcement advisers to the country to help find and rescue the girls who were abducted on April 14 from a rural high school in Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated northeast.
The case has drawn international coverage and prompted a global outcry, as well as protests in Nigeria and anguished calls for President Jonathan’s administration to find the girls and stop the brutal scourge of Boko Haram. Reacting to the anger, Nigerian police today offered a $300,000 reward for information leading to the rescue of the girls.
Obama’s comments came as the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau — who has a $7 million U.S. bounty on his head — released a video in which he said God had commanded him to sell women in the market, adding that girls should marry, not go to school.
Obama called the abductions “heartbreaking” and “outrageous.”
“You’ve got one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Obama told ABC News, adding that the Islamist group had been “killing people ruthlessly for many years now,” and that the mass abduction of the students might help “mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization.”
Though White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was not considering providing military resources “at this point” to help battle Boko Haram, earlier reports in the New York Times said the U.S. was already doing that.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry told reporters at the State Department that during a phone call with the Nigerian leader Tuesday, Jonathan accepted the American offer.
Kerry said the U.S. Embassy in Abuja was prepared to form a “coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations, and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance.”
“We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls, and we want to provide whatever assistance is possible in order to help for their safe return to their families,” Kerry said.
Pressure on the Obama administration also came from Capitol Hill, as all 20 female members of the U.S. Senate signed a letter asking Obama to press the United Nations Security Council to acknowledge Boko Haram’s ties to Al Qaeda, and to ask the U.N. to consider international sanctions.
Boko Haram’s reign of terror in recent years has been unabated, with attacks on churches, a bus station, school dormitories and villages, always leaving a wake of multiple murders. Three months ago, gunmen reportedly linked to the group killed dozens of students at a school in Yobe state, slitting the throats of some and locking others in dormitories that were then set ablaze.
Because of the fears of Boko Haram, which is staunchly opposed to all forms of Western education, schools have been closed in the northeast region. The girls who were abducted had gathered from many district schools to they could take exams. They were protected by two security guards, who were easily overpowered as the gunmen forced the girls onto trucks and drove them into the forest.
“Witnesses described Boko Haram laying siege to towns, villages and highways; looting and burning houses, shops and vehicles; and executing and decapitating people,” the report said.