WASHINGTON— The White House Monday confirmed the United States is helping Nigeria in the effort to find and free nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted April 14 from a school in northeastern Borno State. On the same day the Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the mass abduction, a U.S. spokesperson suggested many of the girls may have already been moved out of the country.
White House spokesman Jay Carney Monday denounced the kidnappings “as an outrage and terrible tragedy.”
"The president has been briefed several times, and his national security team continues to monitor the situation there closely. The State Department has been in regular touch with the Nigerian government about what we might do to help support its efforts to find and free these young women," said Carney.
Carney said U.S. counterterrorism assistance includes information-sharing, improving Nigeria’s forensics and investigative capacity, protecting civilians and ensuring human rights are respected, strengthening Nigeria’s criminal justice system and supporting efforts to bring to account those responsible.
"We’re also pursuing efforts to help the Nigerian military improve its professional military education, to bolster its counter-IED (improvised explosive device) capacity and carry out responsible CT (counterterrorism) operations," said Carney.
He said the United States, which designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization last year, supports programs and initiatives providing positive alternatives to communities most at risk of radicalization and recruitment.
During a news briefing Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf underscored the importance of these U.S. efforts.
“Obviously, these are all things that will be helpful as they try to find these girls who, as we have many indications, many of them have likely been moved out of the country to neighboring countries at this point,” said Harf. “We’d obviously encourage the government of Nigeria to work with their neighbors to see if there’s ways they can work together.”
Harf said she did not anticipate any use of U.S. military assets in the search and safe return of the abductees.
In a video message released Monday to news agencies, the head of Boko Haram, Abubaker Shekau, described the girls as “slaves” and threatened “to sell them in the marketplace.”
The abductions prompted U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who as a prosecutor dealt with issues related to human trafficking, to take to the Senate floor and say there are reports the girls, some as young as 15, are being sold into forced marriages with militants for as little as $12.
"Let’s call this what it is, one of the most brazen and shocking signal incidents of human trafficking we’ve seen in recent memory. As Secretary of State John Kerry said this weekend, it’s not just an act of terrorism, it’s a massive human trafficking moment and it is grotesque. This heinous crime demands that we take action immediate to help bring these girls home to their families and bring their kidnappers to justice," said Klobuchar.
Klobuchar said the Boko Haram Islamist militant group, whose name means ‘western education is sinful,’ has destroyed more than 200 Nigerian schools and killed dozens of students. She said the girls were trying to improve their lives by getting a good education.
The Minnesota Democrat said the world is finally paying attention, with the families of the girls reaching out through social media using the Twitter hashtag, “bring back our girls.”
She called for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the abductions and seeks international assistance to gain the girls’ release, provide U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to Nigeria and work to strengthen the abilities of Nigeria and neighboring countries to counter Boko Haram, protect children and combat human trafficking.