Following outrage over the shocking abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by terrorists in east Africa, the U.S. State Department on Thursday said they were working with Nigeria to help look for them.
"We have been engaged with the Nigerian government in discussions on what we might do to help support their efforts to find and free these young women," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday. "We will continue to have those discussions and help in any way we can."
On April 14, militants with the Islamic fundamentalist group “Boko Haram” – which translates to “Western education is sinful - attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok and kidnapped more than 200 girls. Now weeks later, reports have surfaced that the terrorists are selling the girls off as child brides for as little as $12.
Harf did not give specifics on what kind of help Washington might provide, but said: "We know Boko Haram is active in the area and we have worked very closely with the Nigerian government to build their capacity to fight this threat."
She added, “As of last year, for fiscal year 2012, we provided over $20 million in security assistance to Nigeria. Part of what that does is help professionalize their military, investigate terrorist attacks and enhance their forensics capabilities, and we've worked with law enforcement there as well to help build their capacity as well."
The state department comments came a day after hundreds of mothers and other relatives and neighbors marched in two cities in Nigeria, protesting a perceived lack of government action on the kidnappings.
“The leaders of both houses said they will do all in their power, but we are saying two weeks already have passed. We want action now," Nigerian activist Mercy Asu Abang, said at Wednesday’s rally.
"We want our girls to come home alive — not in body bags."
Locals have reported to human rights groups that the girls are being moved across the border to Cameroon and Chad to be sold into domestic slavery.
"We will continue to have those discussions and help in any way we can."
Mausi Segun, with Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, said that the extremely low price tag “speaks volumes about the value the insurgents have placed on the girls.”
“If the rumors of marriage and trans-border movement of the girls are true the possibility of rescue as one group becomes slim,” Segun told NBC News. “The girls may however be rescued individually or in smaller groups if and when security forces dislodge Boko Haram from their numerous camps either in Nigeria or neighboring countries as has happened in the past.”
Since it seems the militants are not using the girls to make huge sums of profit, one question many have asked is, where do Boko Haram militants get the money to fund such grand operations?
Terror analyst Veryan Khan, who has studied the group in depth as executive director of TRAC, the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, offered an interesting source: "Romance scams" on dating sites.
"Reportedly on Match.com with U.S. women," she told NBC News. "Plus credit card scams, again, with unsuspecting U.S. victims but generating within Nigeria."
— With Catherine Chomiak
First published May 1 2014, 5:06 PM