While many well-meaning people, including First Lady Michelle Obama, hold up signs reading, “Bring Back Our Girls,” Islāmic terror group Boko Haram has kidnapped eight more young girls from the northeast Nigerian town of Warabe. Earlier in the month the terrorist kidnapped almost 300 young women from a school in Chibok, west of Maiduguri, some 600 miles from the capital of Abuja.
In a video message, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the schoolgirls are now slaves. There are reports that many of the girls have already been sold as slaves in neighboring countries, some for as little as $12.
“I abducted your girls,” he taunts. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
A Whitehouse Spokesman called it a tragedy and pledged to help.
“We are working with the Nigerian government to strengthen its criminal justice system and increase confidence in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable,” press secretary Jay Carney said.
A team of FBI, DOJ, State Department and military personnel are in Nigeria to help in the search using ground teams and unmanned aircraft. But the task of recovering the girls appeared to grow more complicated with news that U.S. intelligence believes the 276 girls have been split up.
“We do think they have been broken up into smaller groups,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.
He declined to say how officials came to the conclusion, but it is a sentiment that has been echoed by a number of others, who believe the girls already have been moved out of Nigeria and into neighboring countries. Also, this isn’t the first time the militant group has attack students.
In February of this year, dozens of Nigerian secondary school students were killed by Boko Haram as they slept. In the attack explosives were thrown into buildings and rooms sprayed with gunfire.
Boko Haram gunmen also attacked a wedding convoy November 3rd, killing more than 30 people including the groom. The month before, the extremists attacked a military checkpoint, reportedly killing at least four members of the security forces.
A bomb attack in August 2011, on the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria killed 23 people and left 76 wounded. It was carried out by Boko Haram demanding the release of prisoners and an end to a security crackdown to prevent further bombings.
The latest attack by the group occurred April 5th when, Boko Haram 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 disagree with the group or those who have provided aid to the Nigerian government.
While President Barack Obama called Boko Haram, “one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations,” his State Department under Hillary Clinton, for two years, refused to add the group with known links to Al Qaeda to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
U.S. lawmakers — who had written letters to Clinton while she was serving as chief diplomat — and former administration officials believe the delay in adding Boko Haram to the terrorist list may have thwarted the U.S.’s ability to help Nigeria fight the insurgents.
“The delayed designation of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization cost us two years of increased scrutiny of the group’s activities and leadership,” Congressman Patrick Meehan said. “Boko Haram met the statutory requirements for the designation as early as 2011, but the State Department’s delay has left us with fewer resources and less intelligence on an Islāmic terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda that is clearly destabilizing the region.”
Though she has yet to comment on the delay in designating Boko Haram a terrorist group, Clinton has spoken out, about the mass kidnapping calling it, “abominable,” adding, “It’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.”
This delay may go beyond the State Department as recently uncovered documents show that last fall, Nigeria hired a Washington lobbying firm to press the Obama administration to supply non-lethal equipment to be used in the hunt for the extremists, however the administration continues to claim the Nigerian government refused U.S. aid in tracking down the kidnappers.
“And you can offer and talk, but you can’t do (anything) if a government has its own sense of how it’s proceeding,” Secretary of State John Kerry said. “I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort.”
Early this week, Boko Haram released a new video claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, alleging the teens had converted to Islam and warning that they would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed. It shows about 130 girls wearing full veils, reciting the first chapter of the Qur’an and holding their palms upwards in prayer.
The video also shows leader Abubakar Shekau, who claims he will release the girls in exchange for Boko Haram prisoners.
“… (T)hese girls you occupy yourselves with…we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims,” he said. “We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren. Here I mean those girls who have not submitted (converted to Islam.)”
There are more than 4,000 Boko Haram members in detention. Talks are underway between Nigerian officials and the senior leadership of Boko Haram, meanwhile the Obama administration is calling for additional United Nations sanctions against the group.