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Nigerians seek more U.S. help

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 6:42 p.m.

The United States is considering a request by Nigeria to provide surveillance aircraft and intelligence to find more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

“The Nigerians have asked for assistance in that area and we are considering it,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. assistant-secretarty of State for African Affairs, said in an interview.

U.S. military, law-enforcement and development experts, including some skilled in hostage negotiations, started arriving in Nigeria on Thursday to help search for the missing girls and tackle the rising threat from Boko Haram. France, Britain and China have also offered help.

Thomas-Greenfield said the United States has worked with Nigeria since September on improving the African country's ability to fight Boko Haram after a request by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to President Obama.

The (British) team will fly to Nigeria “as soon as possible,” Prime Minister David Cameron's office told the AFP news service.

The Islamic terrorists, who believe girls should not be educated, took the girls from their school and brought them to their base in a heavily forested region of Nigeria. The group's leader has threatened to sell the girls into slavery.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted the British offer of help when he spoke with Cameron by phone and Jonathan said the abduction could be a turning point in the battle against Islamist militants.

“I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria,” he said, addressing the World Economic Forum being held in Abuja.

Top religious scholars working under the world's largest bloc of Islamic countries said Thursday they strongly condemn the kidnappings. The group's leader has used Islamic teachings as justification for threatening to sell the girls into slavery.

The Islamic Fiqh Academy, which is based in Saudi Arabia and dedicated to the advanced study of Islam, said that this “crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradicts all humanitarian principles and moral values and violates the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah,” or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

“There was no excuse whatsoever for this criminal action which tarnishes the good image of Islam, a tolerant and moderate religion that rejects extremism in all its forms and manifestations,” Madani said.

Meanwhile, residents of a Nigerian town attacked by Boko Haram criticized security forces for failing to protect them despite warnings that the Islamic militants were nearby. At least 50 bodies have been recovered, many horribly burned, in the town.

The attack on Gamboru, in remote northeastern Nigeria near the border with Cameroon, is part of the Islamic militants' campaign of terror that included the kidnapping of teenaged girls from a school, 276 of whom remain missing and believed held by Boko Haram in the vast Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria.

The death toll from the Monday afternoon attack in Gamboru was initially reported by a senator to be as many as 300, but a security official said it is more likely to be around 100. Some Gamboru residents said bodies were recovered from the debris of burned shops around the town's main market, which was the focus of the attack.

The bodies were found after the market reopened on Wednesday as health workers, volunteers and traders searched for missing people, said Gamboru resident Abuwar Masta. He said most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. Some of the victims were traders from Chad and Cameroon, he said.

“It seems they hid in the shops in order not (to) be killed while fleeing,” Masta said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, several explosives were thrown into the market.”

Masta and other traders said that some villagers had warned the security forces of an impending attack after insurgents were seen camping in the bush near Gamboru.

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