US Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged American help in finding and returning hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted by militants more than two weeks ago.
“The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime,” Mr Kerry said. “We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice.”
Nigerian authorities said more than 250 girls are still missing after the mass abduction of teenagers from schools on 14 April.
Villagers and relatives of the missing girls said some of them had been sold into forced marriages with their kidnappers, thought to be members of the militant Islamic movement known as Boko Haram.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful”, has not publicly admitted responsibility for the abductions.
“We are working to strengthen Nigeria’s institutions and its military to combat Boko Haram’s campaign of terror and violence,” Mr Kerry said, during a speech in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, on US policy and objectives in Africa.
“I’ve seen this scourge of terror across the planet, and so have you,” Mr Kerry added. “They don’t offer anything,” he said of movements such as Boko Haram. “They just tell people: ‘You have to behave the way we tell you to.’
“Our responsibility, and the world’s responsibility, is to stand up to that kind of nihilism,” he said.
Mr Kerry did not specify what kind of help the United States could provide, but the abductions gave new urgency to efforts to boost the Nigerian government’s ability to counter the rebels.
A senior State Department official travelling with Mr Kerry said later that the Secretary of State was referring to security, communications and intelligence help for the overall fight against Boko Haram. The United States is not yet directly involved in the search for the missing girls, the official added.
“We don’t see this as just being a security problem,” said the official, who discussed the evolving strategy on condition of anonymity. “There are broader issues here that … relate to how the government works with people in these communities.”
A team of US personnel from several agencies will travel to Nigeria in the coming week for consultations, according to the official. Hundreds of women protested in at least three Nigerian cities in the past week, to express their outrage that the girls had still not been found.
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