Voice of America (Washington, DC)

13 May 2014

Nigeria: U.S. Spy Planes Help Hunt for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

The United States is flying surveillance aircraft over Nigeria to help in the effort to find more than 200 schoolgirls who remain missing after being kidnapped last month.

A senior Obama administration official said Monday the U.S. is using manned missions for the surveillance and has also shared commercial satellite images with the Nigerian government.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier Monday the U.S. is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

"As you know, President Obama has directed his team to do everything it can to support the Nigerian government's efforts to find and free these girls," Carney said. "I can report to you that our interdisciplinary team with representatives from the State Department, Department of Defense, the FBI and others is up and running now in our Embassy in Nigeria, helping to support the Nigerian government by providing military and law enforcement assistance as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support."

Carney also said White House officials have seen a video released by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram that the group claims shows dozens of the kidnapped girls. He said the officials have no reason to question its authenticity, and that intelligence experts are carefully examining the video for clues that could help find the girls.

The 17-minute video shows about 100 of the girls dressed in black and gray full-length hijabs, sitting in an undisclosed rural area, reciting Muslim scriptures and holding their hands for prayers.

In the video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claims the girls have been "liberated" by becoming Muslims. He says the girls will not be released until the group's imprisoned fighters are freed in Nigeria.

Nigerian authorities are holding hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants in jail.

'All options open'

The director general of Nigeria's National Orientation Agency, Mike Omeri, says officials are studying the situation, and all options remain open to free the missing girls.

The United Nations says it has sent a high-level representative to Nigeria to support the government's efforts to find the abducted schoolgirls, and Special Representative for West Africa Said Djinnit will meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and other senior government officials over the next few days.

Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok. The militants have threatened to sell the girls on the human trafficking market.

Boko Haram is blamed for thousands of deaths in bombing and shooting attacks during the past five years. The militants say they are fighting to establish a strict Islamic state in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria.

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