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US Planes Spot Chibok Girls in Nigeria

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After about three months of frantic search for the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, recent US surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria showed what appeared to be large groups of girls held together in remote locations, raising hopes among domestic and foreign officials that they are among the group that Boko Haram abducted from their school in April, US and Nigerian officials said.

It will be the first time a near definite information about the location of the abducted schoolgirls will be made by the international forces who had offered to help search for the kidnapped girls.

The Nigerian military had claimed in the past that it knew where the girls were but was wary of applying force in a bid to rescue them.

The surveillance suggests that at least some of the 219 schoolgirls still held captive haven’t been forced into marriage or sex slavery, as had been feared, but instead are being used as bargaining chips for the release of prisoners.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US aerial imagery matched what Nigerian officials said they heard from northern Nigerians who have interacted with the Islamist insurgency: that some of Boko Haram’s most famous set of captives were getting special treatment, compared with the hundreds of other girls the group is suspected to have kidnapped.

Boko Haram appears to have seen the schoolgirls as of higher value, given the global attention paid to their plight, the officials said.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces re-election in February, is under political pressure to secure the girls’ release, with some people urging him to agree to a girls-for-prisoners swap.

But his government has ruled out a rescue operation, saying it is unwilling to risk the girls’ lives, or a prisoner swap.

“We don’t exchange innocent people for criminals. That is not in the cards,” said Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, last week in an interview.
In early July, US surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria spotted a group of 60 to 70 girls held in an open field, said two US defence officials. Late last month, they spotted a set of roughly 40 girls in a different field.

When surveillance flights returned, both sets of girls had been moved. US intelligence analysts said they don’t have enough information to confirm whether the two groups of girls they saw were the same.

They also could not verify whether those groups included any of the girls the group has held since April. But US and Nigerian officials said they believe they are indeed those schoolgirls.

“It’s unusual to find a large group of young women like that in an open space,” said one US defence official.

“We’re assuming they’re not a rock band of hippies out there camping.”
A wave of intermediaries acting on their own has tried to negotiate the girls’ release, Abati said, adding that the president has neither authorised nor discouraged those efforts.

Several of those intermediaries have said Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has ordered his fighters to treat the girls as valuable hostages—not sex slaves—one senior Nigerian security adviser said.

“He gave a directive that anybody found touching any of the girls should be killed immediately,” the adviser said. “If true, it is cheering.”

It would also show that Boko Haram is trying to follow an al Qaeda tactic of swapping hostages for money and political gain.

Some accounts suggest the burden of providing for scores of girls has become a point of dissension in Boko Haram’s ranks.

In July, four girls and women aged 16 to 22 hid in their bedrooms as Boko Haram fighters broke into their home in the town of Damboa, they each said in an interview last week. They feared they would be kidnapped.

When their aunt, Fatima Abba, argued on their behalf, the roughly 20 Boko Haram insurgents decided not to kidnap them—and instead began to complain about the scores of schoolgirls they already have.

“They are always crying. They behave like children,” Abba quoted the Boko Haram fighters as saying of the schoolgirls. “We don’t want them around.”

Meanwhile, the international effort to find the girls has waned: The US military is now carrying out just one surveillance flight a day, mostly by manned aircraft, totalling only 35 to 40 hours a week, said US defence officials, as drones have been shifted back towards other operations.

But despite the seeming drop in global attention on the issue of the abducted girls, President Jonathan in Washington DC, yesterday called for a more effective global action and implementation of all existing international protocols against terrorism and violent extremism.

In Nigeria's country statement presented to the ongoing US-African Leaders Summit, Jonathan demanded a more effective regime of international sanctions   against countries, organisations and individuals that sponsor terrorism in any part of the world.

This was contained in a statement by Abati.
“The president observed that some of the security problems now faced by Nigeria and other African countries were transnational in scope and could not therefore be solved by any country acting alone.

“He said because terrorism, piracy and transnational-organised crimes had become global in scope, greater regional and international collaboration was needed to combat them.

“Several African countries, including Nigeria, are now challenged by terrorism and violent extremism. For several countries on the continent, terrorism has become a real threat to social progress, peace and security.

“The violent and criminal activities of Boko Haram in my country have captured the world’s attention.  This has been especially so since the terrorist group abducted some girls from their school dormitory in northeastern Nigeria in April.
“Nigeria may be the epicentre of Boko Haram terrorist activities at the moment, but its affiliation with international terrorist networks, dramatically increases its capacity and reach beyond Nigeria’s borders.

“Nigeria is doing everything possible to combat Boko Haram and violent extremism. While we continue to enhance our intelligence and military capacities, we are, at the same time working on political and socio-economic solutions,” the president told his audience in Washington.

In an earlier interview with   the Washington Times, Jonathan narrated the various efforts being made by the Nigerian government to ensure the release of the abducted girls and securing an end to terrorism in the country.
One of the measures, according to the president, is by encouraging intermediaries, some of whom had offered to persuade the Boko Haram terrorist group to release the abducted schoolgirls.

A statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said while appreciating the support of the international community in the ongoing rescue efforts of the Chibok girls, the president explained that government considers the safety of the girls as very paramount, hence the adoption of several methods in the operation.

While describing a strict military approach to the rescue effort as “delicate”, the statement quoted Jonathan as saying: “If it is to risk a few dead bodies, it is easier. You can blast the place and carry the corpses. But is that what we have to do? So it is delicate.”

The president reiterated that the federal government had information on the location of the kidnapped girls but was being mindful of the consequences of invading the location to avoid a repeat of an episode in February 2013 in which an offshoot of Boko Haram killed seven foreign hostages in northern Nigeria before authorities could rescue them.

“They are ready to die,” he added about the Islamist militant group. “So when you are dealing with that scenario, it is very different from the ordinary kidnapping by criminals or people who don’t want to die. So it is very, very delicate.”

This, according to the president, was why the dialogue option was not being ruled out. “We have set up a committee, what I call a dialogue committee on the security challenge we have in the north, even before the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. We have a team. And we encourage people to assist them. We do negotiate,” he said.

“Quite a number of people have come with different information. We encourage them. But none of them has yielded any results yet,” he said.
Jonathan disclosed that Nigeria was building partnerships, both at the regional and international levels, to combat the threat posed by terrorism in our sub-region.

“In this enterprise, we are pleased to acknowledge the supportive role of the United States. The assistance that we continue to receive from the United States and our other international partners is proof indeed that partnerships can multiply our strengths in addressing common challenges.

“We call for an effective international sanctions regime that would hold accountable any country, institutions and individual that finances terrorism in any part of the world. This inaugural Africa-US Summit must also call for effective action and implementation of all existing international protocols on this critical issue,” Jonathan said.

But as the president called for sanctions against terrorism, the Boko Haram continued its reign of terror in Borno State, as it emerged that the deadly sect had taken over another town in the state after the capture of Damboa about a month ago.
The new territory under the control of the terrorist group is hilly Gwoza town, which succumbed to the firepower of the Islamic fundamentalist group yesterday.
The insurgents were said to have first attacked the town at about 5 pm on Tuesday but were repelled.

They later came back at about 4 am yesterday, more determined and better equipped, and captured the town.
It was gathered that the insurgents killed eight persons during yesterday morning attack, torched the divisional police station, council secretariat complex and other buildings.
They also forced the residents to flee into the hills and neighbouring Camerounian villages.

A resident of the area who called from one of the hills said he had to flee with some other residents, adding that Boko Haram terrorists besieged the town in many utility vehicles and armoured cars.
He said the insurgents sent the military fleeing with the strength of their armoury and numbers.

“The insurgents started shooting sporadically and setting houses, shops and government buildings ablaze. This situation forced us to flee the town and run to the top of the hills and mountains. As I am speaking to you now, I am on the hilltop.

“They also attacked the policemen at the Gwoza Divisional Police headquarters, throwing explosives and using other dangerous weapons but I don’t have the details as to whether the police station was destroyed or not,” he said.
Another resident of the town, Yahaya Mbursa, told reporters on the phone that the insurgents also torched two churches, and snatched an unspecified number of vehicles at the bus park near the burnt police station, and fled into the hilltops of Mandara Mountains and Sambisa Forest.

“The Boko Haram dawn attack was very shocking and terrifying, as the gunmen burst into this town through the mountain tops and western forest of Sambisa, 18 kilometres from this town. Some of the residents had to flee into nearby bushes and the hills, near this market square.

“I cannot tell you the exact number of people killed while fleeing, but about dozen were shot dead,” said Mbursa.
Yuguga Ibrahim, a bus driver at the bus park, also said: “We had to run for our dear lives this morning (yesterday) when the gunmen attacked this bus park and warned us not to panic, but surrender all the vehicles including the ones being loaded with passengers.

“Some of us fled, while others took cover behind the buildings shivering, fearing they are going to shoot us.”

Confirming the incident in Maiduguri, the former Gwoza Council Vice-Chairman, Mr. Francis Mbala, said the sect members attacked Gwoza town and torched a police station, churches and other public buildings, before snatching an unspecified number of vehicles at the bus park.

“I am yet to get the exact number of people killed in the attacks, but the reports being sent to me on my phone indicated that there were casualties in the multiple attacks.

“They are yet to furnish me with the number of our people killed by the suspected gunmen that burst into the town through the hill tops – the southern entry point on Gwoza-Madagali Road and Damboa Road that leads to Sambisa Forest,” said Mbala.
Also commenting on the attacks on Gwoza, military sources in Maiduguri told journalists that troops in the Bama-Gwoza axis, the ones in Damboa town and Bulabulin Ngarwa village in Borno State had embarked on special military operations against the insurgents and were closing in on them.

“The insurgents are on a rampage, as they have no any other place to hide now, other than to attack vulnerable towns and villages near the mountain tops and Sambisa Forest,” said the military sources who was not authorised to speak on the incident.
For months, Gwoza villages have come under several attacks by Boko Haram members. In one of such incidents, the terrorists blew up the bridge linking Gwoza to Madagali in Adamawa State.

At that time, the Emir of Gwoza, Alhaji Idrisa Timta, who was later killed by the insurgents in a highway raid, had called on the federal government to do something or his domain would be captured by the insurgents.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago

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Tags:     Chibok Schoolgirls     US     Boko Haram     Reuben Abati     Abubakar Shekau