BRITISH experts and United States military personnel arrived in the Nigerian capital Abuja last night to help find at least 276 girls being held by Islamic militants, amid claims the country’s military knew about the terrorists’ raid in advance but did nothing.
The UK and US teams landed as militants continue to stage attacks. The Boko Haram rebels’ bloody struggle for an Islamic state has killed thousands since it erupted in mid-2009 and has destabilised swathes of the north-east of Africa’s top oil producer, as well as neighbours Cameroon and Niger.
Britain said its aim was to help with the current crisis and to defeat the group.
“The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
They arrived as Amnesty International claimed that Nigeria’s military had advance warning of the abduction. It said it was told by several credible sources that the military in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri was informed of the impending attack soon after 7pm local time – the school was attacked around midnight.
Despite the warning, reinforcements were not sent to help protect the school in the remote Chibok area, Amnesty says. It says one reason was a “reported fear of engaging with the often better-equipped armed groups”.
The Islamic extremists bombed a bridge linking the town of Gamboru to Maiduguri, a base for the Nigerian military. Gamboru was attacked on Monday by Boko Haram, who are estimated to have killed as many as 300 people.
Communications with the remote town are difficult and it was not immediately possible to reconcile conflicting accounts of when the bridge was bombed.
The bombing of the bridge would prevent army convoys reaching Gamboru while leaving the way open for the insurgents to escape across a strategic bridge into neighbouring Cameroon – a bridge leading into mountains where the militants are known to have hideouts in caves.
The mass kidnapping of the schoolgirls has focused the world’s attention on Boko Haram, and on the many civilian victims of the extremists.
President Goodluck Jonathan hinted at a crackdown when he spoke at the world economic forum on Thursday, saying: “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.”
He said he believes the girls are still in his country and have not been moved to Cameroon. His government stands accused of being slow to mount rescue operations.