Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, whose country’s effort to subdue Boko Haram has been largely ineffective, declared in a speech Thursday that the terror group’s abductions of schoolgirls would be its undoing.
“I believe the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end for terror in Nigeria,” he said at the opening of the World Economic Forum meeting in Abuja.
But the task of recovering the girls appeared to grow more complicated Thursday.
U.S. intelligence officials believe the 276 girls abducted last month have been separated, according to a senior U.S. official who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The source declined to say how U.S. officials came to the conclusion.
Seven members of the U.S. military are scheduled to arrive Friday in Nigeria to join a team of advisers supporting the Nigerian efforts to rescue the girls, the official said. About 11 U.S. Africa Command advisers are already in country working with the Nigerian government, the official said.
Britain, France and China are also providing assistance.
The girls have not been seen since Boko Haram militants abducted them from a school in northern Nigeria April 14. Recently, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said he plans to sell them.
Now, the militants may be going after those trying to find the girls. On Thursday, Nigerian police said one officer was wounded in the neck during a gunfight with suspected Boko Haram militants on the road between Maiduguri and Chibok, where the schoolgirls were abducted April 14.
And on Monday, Boko Haram militants attacked Gamboru Ngala, a remote state capital near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon that has been used as a staging ground for troops in the search for the girls. Some of the at least 310 victims were burned alive.
The assault fits a pattern of revenge-seeking by Boko Haram against those perceived to have provided aid to the Nigerian government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said what’s happening in Nigeria has “captured the public’s attention about extremism in faraway places.”
“And it has also helped to focus the world’s attention on Boko Haram, a concern that we have been focused on for some period of time,” he said. “Our interagency team is hitting the ground in Nigeria now and they are going to be working in concert with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to do everything that we possibly can to return these girls to their families and their communities.”
The latest assault
Witnesses described the Gamboru Ngala attack as a well-coordinated onslaught that began shortly after 1:30 p.m. Monday at a busy outdoor market in the town.
Wearing military uniforms, the militants arrived with three armored personnel carriers, villagers said.
The attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great” — and opened up on the market, firing rocket-propelled grenades into the crowd and tossing improvised explosive devices, witnesses said.
Some marketgoers tried to take shelter in shops only to be burned alive when the gunmen set fire to a number of the businesses, the witnesses said.
A few Nigerian soldiers who had been left behind at the village could not hold off the assault and were forced to flee, they said. Many sought safe haven in nearby Cameroon.
The fighters also attacked the police station during the 12-hour assault, initially facing stiff resistance. They eventually used explosives to blow the roof off the building, witnesses said. They said 14 police officers were found dead inside.
Residents who returned to the village said they found 310 bodies.
The attack came about three weeks after militants snatched the 276 girls from their beds at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.
And Sunday night, villagers in Warabe said Boko Haram militants snatched at least eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15.
Amid the growing international outrage, world leaders lined up to provide assistance.
The United States is sending a team of law enforcement experts and military advisers. France said Thursday that it would send a “specialized team” to help. The British government is also sending a small team, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said. Neither country said exactly what expertise their teams would bring.
British satellites and advanced tracking capabilities also will be used, and China has promised to provide any intelligence gathered by its satellite network, the Nigerian government said.
It’s unlikely U.S. combat troops would be involved in operations against Boko Haram, U.S. officials told CNN Wednesday.
Nigerian police also announced a reward of about $310,000 for information leading to the girls’ rescue.
‘I will sell women’
The increased global response came after a chilling video described what may happen to the girls.
A man claiming to be Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, made the following claim:
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” he said. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”
Boko Haram translates to “Western education is sin” in the local Hausa language. The group has said it wants a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.
The militants have even been known to kill Muslim clerics who dare criticize them.
The United States has branded Boko Haram a terror organization and has put a $7 million bounty on Shekau. But his location is as uncertain as the whereabouts of the girls.
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