Nigeria’s government defends its actions as more girls are abducted

Nigeria map -- April 16

ABUJA, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria defended its response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by a terror group even as details emerged Tuesday about a second mass abduction, adding to a growing global outcry over the fate of the children.

President Goodluck Jonathan has been under mounting international pressure to step up efforts to rescue the girls, who have become the focal point for a global campaign that began on social media and quickly spread to street demonstrations.

“The President and the government is not taking this as easy as people all over the world think,” Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Nigeria’s President, told CNN.

“We’ve done a lot but we are not talking about it. We’re not Americans. We’re not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something.”

Two special battalions have been devoted to the search for the missing girls, including the more than 200 who were abducted from an all-girls school in April, Okupe said.

It was unclear whether these were additional troops being dispatched or were forces already in place. More troops, he said, are also on the way, though he did not detail how many.

U.S. offers military help

The defense by the government came the same day Jonathan said he welcomed an offer of U.S. support in the search for the girls, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, is ready to create a “coordination cell” to provide intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiation expertise, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. The cell would include U.S. military personnel, she said.

Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Jonathan on Tuesday to reiterate the offer to help, Psaki said.

Even as Kerry and Jonathan spoke, new details were emerging about the abduction of at least eight girls, between the ages of 12 and 15, who were snatched Sunday night from the village of Warabe.

The village is located in the rural northeast, near the border of Cameroon, an area considered a stronghold for Boko Haram, a group that U.S. officials say has received training from al Qaeda affiliates.

That follows the April 14 abduction of more than 230 girls. According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram overpowered security guards at an all-girls school in Chibok, yanked the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks. The convoy of trucks then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon.

Boko Haram translates to “Western education is sin” in the local Hausa language, and the group has said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The United States has branded Boko Haram a terror organization and has put a $7 million bounty on the group’s elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau.

In recent years, the group has stepped up its attacks, bombing schools, churches and mosques.

But it is the abductions of girls that has spawned the biggest outrage, with a #BringBackOurGirls campaign that initially began on Twitter and then quickly spread with demonstrators taking to the streets over the weekend in major cities around the world to demand action.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights chief blasted Boko Haram, saying the group’s claim of slavery and sexual slavery of girls are “crimes against humanity.”

“The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.

‘I abducted your girls’

A man claiming to be Shekau appeared Monday in a video announcing he would sell his victims. The video was first obtained by Agence-France Presse.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” he said, according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”

In the nearly hour-long, rambling video, Shekau repeatedly called for an end to Western education.

“Girls, you should go and get married,” he said.

Pillay, along with three other African United Nations women leaders, sent a letter reminding the Nigerian government of its “legal responsibility to ensure that girls and boys have the fundamental right to education and to be protected from violence, persecution and intimidation,” according to her statement.

Nigerian Minister of Information Labaran Maku told CNN that despite international reaction and media reports, there have been some successes in combating Boko Haram.

But when asked about bombings in the capital city of Abuja, which came the same day as the mass abduction of schoolgirls, he said: “In the case of insurgency and guerrilla warfare, you can never rule out surprise here and there.”

He also declined to agree that misinformation released by the military in the aftermath of the April kidnapping added to the growing outrage.

First, the military said all the girls had been released or rescued. But after the girls’ families began asking where their daughters were, the military retracted the statement.

“When they made that statement, it was based on a report they received,” the minister said.

Nigeria’s finance minister said Monday that her country’s government remains committed to finding the girls but should have done a better job explaining the situation to the public.

“Have we communicated what is being done properly? The answer is no, that people did not have enough information,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNN’s Richard Quest.

By Isha Sesay, Vlad Duthiers and Chelsea J. Carter

CNN’s Isha Sesay and Vlad Duthiers reported from Abuja, and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. Journalist Aminu Abubakar contributed to this report from Nigeria, and CNN’s Ashley Fantz and Dana Ford contributed from Atlanta.

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