A Second Kidnapping is Reported in Nigeria as U.S. Offers Help
A second kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria’s northeast by Islamist militants put new pressure on the country’s troubled government, which had been hoping to showcase its emergence as Africa’s largest economy this week but instead has been forced to confront its failure to contain a growing insurgency in its north.
Men suspected of being fighters from the radical group Boko Haram kidnapped 11 more girls in Nigeria’s northeast, local officials said Tuesday, an intensification of its campaign against female education and the Nigerian government since the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls three weeks ago.
The spectacle of red-shirted protesters in the streets of the capital here, angry at the government for its tepid response to the crisis, put President Goodluck Jonathan under an uncomfortable spotlight as executives from across the world arrived in private jets to attend the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum, the continent’s answer to Davos.
In a sign of deepening global concern, on Tuesday the United States offered to provide a team of experts, including military and law enforcement officers, along with hostage negotiators and psychologists, to assist the Nigerians in recovering the girls, an offer that the government here accepted. American officials said “military resources” would not be included, but President Obama weighed in, vowing to “do everything we can.”
A viral social media campaign, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, has brought new infamy to Boko Haram, which has been operating in Nigeria for more than a decade. The group’s goal, never clearly enunciated, is to radically undermine the secular Nigerian state.
But never in a five-year campaign of bombings, civilian massacres and assaults on state schools have the attacks so shaken the government. The heightening concerns have led to daily antigovernment protests, which continued Tuesday with a demonstration outside defense headquarters here. In a sign of the government’s nervousness, several of the protest leaders were briefly arrested Monday.
In the latest kidnappings, more girls were taken from their homes late Sunday in the villages of Warabe and Wala, said Hamba Tada, an official in the area. Heavily armed militants descended from surrounding hills, stealing grain and livestock belonging to villagers, forcing the girls, ages 12 to 15, into an 18-seater bus, and warning locals not to alert the authorities.
Another local official confirmed the new abductions, though the area’s top police official, Lawan Tanko denied they had taken place. “By our record it’s not true,” he said in an interview from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.
In Abuja, limousines ferrying business-suited delegates to the World Economic Forum are flooding the capital and filling its luxury hotels, but public discussion and newspaper headlines here are dominated by little else but the kidnappings. On Monday, a video surfaced in which the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the abduction of the nearly 300 girls taken on April 15 and threatened to sell them into slavery in a rambling and vituperative diatribe.
The video has sharpened the sense of urgency about finding the girls quickly, and has added to the deepening embarrassment of the Nigerian government, even as it tries to present a progressive new face at the forum.
Unicef has reported that the second kidnappings involved at least eight girls who were seized in their homes in Borno to prevent them from attending school. It called the latest abduction “an outrage and a worsening nightmare for the girls themselves, and for the families of the more than 200 girls who have been stolen from their communities in the last several weeks.”
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