BAUCHI, Nigeria: British experts arrived in the Nigerian capital Friday to help find at least 276 girls being held by Islamic militants in northeastern Nigeria as an international effort began taking hold.
They landed in Abuja as Amnesty International said Nigeria’s military had advanced warning of the April 14 attack but failed to take immediate action.
“Damning testimonies gathered by Amnesty International reveal that Nigerian security forces failed to act on advance warnings about Boko Haram’s armed raid on the state-run boarding school in Chibok which led to the abduction,” the rights group said.
The British experts were expected to work closely with U.S. officials and agents in the search for the missing girls, the British government said as Boko Haram militants continued to stage attacks in northeastern Nigeria.
China and France have also promised help and the deputy prime minister of Spain, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, told reporters in Madrid Friday that her government had decided to make available a specialist team from the police to assist, if Nigeria approves.
Britain said its aim was not only to help with the current crisis but to defeat Boko Haram.
“The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counterterrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram,” the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a statement Friday.
A local government official confirmed that the Islamic extremists bombed a bridge linking the town of Gamboru to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, the headquarters of the Nigerian military offensive. Gamboru was attacked Monday by Boko Haram, leaving many dead. Estimates of the death toll from that attack ranged from 100 to as many as 300.
Communications with the remote town are difficult and it was not immediately possible to reconcile conflicting accounts of when the bridge was bombed. One account said Monday while another said Thursday.
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 neighboring 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 their many civilian victims.
Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, abducted more than 300 girls from a school in the northeast town of Chibok. The government of Borno state, where Chibok is located, Thursday identified 53 girls who escaped, potentially subjecting the girls to stigma in this conservative society.
The government said in a statement received Friday that the 53 girls it identified by name included those who fled the day they were kidnapped and those who escaped from Boko Haram camps days later.
Borno’s government did not explain the decision to name the girls.
Jonathan Friday said that he believed the schoolgirls were still in the country and had not been moved to Cameroon.
“There are stories that they have moved them outside of the country. But if they move that number of girls to Cameroon, people will see, so I believe they are still in Nigeria,” Jonathan told journalists on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Nigerian capital.
Amnesty said it had verified the information about the abduction with “credible sources.”
“Amnesty International has confirmed … that Nigeria’s military headquarters in Maiduguri was aware of the impending attack soon after 7 p.m. on April 14, close to four hours before Boko Haram began their assault on the town,” the group said.
The military, however, could not assemble the troops needed to suppress the attack, “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging with the often better-equipped” Islamists, according to Amnesty.
The 17 army personnel based in Chibok were overpowered by the attackers and had to retreat, the London-based group further said.
“The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for research and advocacy.
Chibok residents staged a street protest Friday to press Borno’s government to do more to find the missing girls.
Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people this year.