US in aerial search for Nigeria schoolgirls
US flying "manned" missions over Nigeria to track down more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram, Pentagon says.
Last updated: 13 May 2014 00:58
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to release the girls in exchange for prisoners [Reuters]
|The United States has been flying "manned" missions over Nigeria to track down more than 200 abducted schoolgirls, the Pentagon said, as experts pored over a new video, seeking clues to where they are being held.|
"We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the government's permission," a senior administration official told AFP news agency on Monday, asking not to be named.
It was not immediately clear what kinds of aircraft were being deployed, nor where they had come from.
A new video released by the Boko Haram group purportedly showing about 130 of the girls was being carefully studied by US experts in the hope it might yield vital clues as to where they are being held.
"Our intelligence experts are combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier on Monday.
"We have no reason to question its authenticity," she added of the video.
In the video, the Islamic group's leader Abubakar Shekau said the girls may be released once Nigeria frees all the Boko Haram prisoners it has in custody.
But that proposal has been rejected by the Nigerian government, and Psaki recalled that the US policy is also "to deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, including ransoms or concessions”.
A 30-strong US team arrived on the ground last week in Nigeria to help growing efforts to find the girls aged between 16 to 18, snatched from their boarding school in the northeast of the country on April 14.
The White House said the team included five State Department officials, two strategic communications experts, a civilian security expert and a regional medical support officer.
Also on the manifest are 10 Defense Department planners already in Nigeria, seven extra military advisors from US Africa Command and four FBI officials expert in hostage negotiations.
"We are talking about helping the Nigerian government search an area that is roughly the size of New England," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, referring to the region in the US northeast.
"So this is no small task. But we are certainly bringing resources to bear in our effort to assist the government."
Psaki stressed the Nigerian authorities were "in the lead" during the investigation.
The girls' plight has triggered a storm of outrage across the US, and First Lady Michelle Obama on Saturday for the first time delivered her husband's weekly address to the nation to say they were both "outraged and heartbroken" by the kidnapping.
"This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education - grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls," she said.
Boko Haram video claims to show missing girls
Video obtained by AFP news agency says girls will not be released until all Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria are freed.
Last updated: 12 May 2014 15:36
|Boko Haram has released a new video claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted last month, alleging they had converted to Islam and would not be released until all of its prisoners held by Nigeria were freed.|
In the video, obtained by the AFP news agency on Monday, Abubakar Shekau, the group's leader, is shown speaking for 17 minutes before showing what he said were about 130 of the girls, wearing full-length abayas and praying in an undisclosed rural location.
Nearly 300 girls were abducted on April 14 from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Fifty-three girls managed to escape.
Three of the girls in Monday's video are interviewed in the recording. Two say they were Christian and had converted while one said she was Muslim.
The girls appeared calm and one said that they had not been harmed.
There was no indication of when the video was taken, although the quality is better than on previous Boko Haram videos and at one point an armed man is seen in shot with a hand-held video camera.
Boko Haram has been waging an increasingly deadly insurgency in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north since 2009, attacking schools teaching a "Western" curriculum, churches and government targets.
Civilians have borne the brunt of recent violence, with more than 1,500 killed this year alone, while tens of thousands have been displaced after their homes and businesses were razed.
Nigeria's government has been criticised for its lack of immediate response to the kidnapping but has been forced to act after Shekau threatened to sell the girls as slaves.
President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted help from the United States, Britain, France, China and Israel, which have sent specialist teams to help in the search effort.
In the video, Shekau appears in front of a lime green canvas backdrop wearing combat fatigues and carrying an automatic weapon. He does not appear in the same shot as the girls at any point.
Speaking in Hausa and Arabic, he restates his claim of responsibility made in a video released last Monday and said the girls had converted to Islam.
The rebel leader said that Boko Haram's "brothers in arms" had been held in prison for up to five years and suggested that the girls would be released if the fighters were freed.
"We will never release them until after you release our brethren," he said.
Boko Haram has made prisoner exchange demands before without success and Nigeria's government again dismissed the request outright.
Asked if the government would reject Shekau's suggestion, Interior Minister Abba Moro told the AFP: "Of course."
"The issue in question is not about Boko Haram... giving conditions," he added.
Boko Haram has kidnapped women and young girls in the past and Shekau indicated that more were being held.
Eleven girls were abducted from the Gwoza area of Borno state on May 4.
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