World pledges help to Nigeria in hunt for girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

President Obama has said the abductions 'may be the event that helps to mobilise the entire international community against this horrendous organisation'

The grinning appearance of the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video released early this week where he threatened to sell the 230 or more girls still in captivity into sex slavery arguably focused minds on the Islamist group in a way that previous atrocities had failed to do.

As outrage grows around the world over the killings, the international community has stepped forward to offer support for the Nigerian government to find the girls, and furthermore to go after Boko Haram.

It could yet prove to be the militant group’s undoing, with President Barack Obama suggesting the kidnappings “may be the event that helps to mobilise the entire international community finally to do something against this horrendous organisation”.

The Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said that the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month by Boko Haram insurgents had marked a pivotal moment in the country’s fight against terror as the international community pledged support to help find the missing girls.

“As a nation we are facing attack from terrorism,” Mr Jonathan told delegates at the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum, which has been overshadowed by the mass kidnappings, two bombs in the capital, Abuja, and this week’s slaughter of civilians in a marketplace. “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.”

The Nigerian leader has been criticised for failing to take the girls’ predicament seriously until domestic and international pressure forced him to do so some two weeks after the 14 April incident, where Islamist militants snatched some 270 schoolgirls aged mainly between 16 and 18 years old from their dormitories at a school in the north-eastern state of Borno. 

The military, often decried for its heavy-handed tactics, has been widely viewed as unequal to the task of taking on Boko Haram, whose name loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden”. Since 2009, the group has waged a bloody insurgency against the state, lately targeting schools, in a bid to create a medieval-style caliphate in Nigeria.

International offers of help have started to pour in, although many fear that it may be too late to trace the hostages amid the belief that the girls will already have been separated into small groups, with some already said to have been sold as “brides” in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon for as little as £8.

Despite its weak military ties with Nigeria, the US has agreed to send a team of up to 10 military personnel, comprising experts in logistics, communications and intelligence planning, to join State Department and Justice Department officers, to advise the Nigerians, although there is no current intention to launch any military operation.

British SAS liaison officers are understood to be already in Abuja, where they are looking at ways to assist rescue efforts. A team of Whitehall experts is to join them, including a senior military officer and civil servants from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister David Cameron said it was vital that Britain stood up to “extreme Islamists” who oppose education and progress. “This is an act of pure evil. It has united people across the planet to stand with Nigeria to help find these children and return them to their parents,” he said.

France, which currently has troops in Mali, has said it will send a small team to Nigeria as well as deploying 3,000 troops in the region to fight terrorism, with its operations expected to extend across the Sahel belt, which includes Mali, Niger and Chad.

“A special team with all our resources in the region is at the disposal of Nigeria to help in the search and recovery of these young girls,” the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament on Wednesday.

Canada, meanwhile, has agreed to provide surveillance equipment to help the Nigerians track down the location of the girls, thought to be mainly in the Sambisa reserve.

Meanwhile, China, whose premier Li Keqiang is in Abuja this week, said it would provide intelligence and satellite support.

The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a UN education envoy, unveiled a “safe schools initiative” at the forum, which would see the Nigerian business community putting up $10m (£5,9m) to enhance security at some 500 schools in the country.

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