US team to aid Nigerian search for kidnapped girls

WASHINGTON — The United States is sending technical experts to aid the Nigerian government’s search for nearly 300 teenage girls who were kidnapped from their school last month, the White House said Tuesday. The mass abduction has sparked international outrage and mounting demands that Nigeria do more to free the girls.

“Time is of the essence,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were to discuss the kidnapping Tuesday during one of their regularly scheduled White House meetings.

Kerry reiterated the offer of U.S. assistance during a conversation Tuesday with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who welcomed it, Carney said.

“The president was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately,” Kerry told reporters at a State Department news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “We are immediately engaging in order to implement this. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls.”

The experts, including a team to be assembled by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, will include U.S. military and law enforcement personnel capable of sharing their skills on intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance, as well as officials with other expertise, Carney said.

The U.S. was not considering sending in armed forces, Carney said.

He said the U.S. is committed to assisting Nigeria, but he stressed repeatedly that it is the Nigerian government’s responsibility to keep its citizens safe and secure.

“Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed,” Carney said. “We urge the Nigerian government to ensure that it is bringing all appropriate resources to bear in a concerted effort to ensure their safe return.”

A statement issued by Jonathan’s office said the U.S. offer “includes the deployment of U.S. security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation.” The statement said Nigeria’s security agencies are working at “full capacity” to find the girls, who were taken April 15 from their school in the remote northeast.

Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 escaped.

Nigeria’s Islamic extremist leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened in a new videotape received Monday to sell the girls. Shekau also for the first time claimed responsibility for the abduction and warned that his group, Boko Haram, plans to attack more schools and abduct more girls. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.”

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