Nigeria schoolgirl kidnap: US aircraft join hunt for girls as government uses Boko Haram video to try and confirm captives’ identities

The video, showing around 130 girls, is being reproduced and circulated around families in Chibok
  • @adamwithnall

The US has begun deploying manned aircraft over Nigeria to hunt for the hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, officials have said, as authorities in the country scrambled to glean any useful information they could from a video posted by the militant group to YouTube.

The footage, including a 10-minute clip purporting to show some of the missing girls praying with their heads bowed, has been reproduced under orders from the state governor of Borno, where they were abducted four weeks ago.

Local officials were tasked with travelling to the remote area and circulating the video among families in a bid to verify the identity of the girls involved, and one mother has now confirmed that she spotted her daughter among those veiled and sitting on the ground.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Obama administration in Washington said that the US had begun scouring the vast area of forest, described as being around three times the size of Wales, where Boko Haram were believed to be holding the girls.

“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,” the US official said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing late on Monday that the US was providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. She said teams on the ground “are digging in on the search and coordinating closely with the Nigerian government as well as international partners and allies”.

At the weekend David Cameron joined the huge social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, despite facing criticism from some observers on Twitter, and said that intelligence and counter-terror agents from the UK would be joining the larger US team already on the ground in Nigeria.

In the video released yesterday, around 130 girls appeared quiet, docile and passive against a rural backdrop. Officials from Nigeria, the US and Britain have reportedly been checking the footage against their own intelligence reports in an attempt to identify the location where it was filmed.

VIDEO: Boko Haram footage shows missing girls

In what was also the first sign that the girls’ captors may be willing to negotiate, a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau suggested they could be traded for the dozens of Islamist militants held in Nigeria’s prisons.

The proposition was initially rejected out of hand by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, which has been castigated at home for its seemingly lethargic response to the mass kidnapping and an earlier threat by Shekau to sell the girls as brides.

Read more: What is Boko Haram?

Abba Moro, the Nigerian Interior Minister, told Agence France Presse that the authorities were not prepared to trade the schoolchildren. Mr Moro said: “The issue in question is not about Boko Haram giving conditions.”

That position was backed by the father of one of the captive girls. He said: “It’s not right. They’ll do it again.”

But last night the government appeared to shift ground and leave open the option of negotiation by saying it was reviewing “all options”.

On Monday Israel became the latest country to have its offer of expert help accepted by Mr Jonathan.

The scale of the kidnapping and Boko Haram’s threat to sell the teenagers “in the market” have provoked international outrage and a global campaign to secure their release.