NPR Story
1:41 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

U.S. Team To Help Nigeria Find Kidnapped Girls

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 3:48 pm

The White House says a U.S. team will head to Nigeria as soon as possible to aid in the search for nearly 300 teenage girls abducted from their school more than three weeks ago.

Spokesman Jay Carney says Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the offer during a conversation Tuesday with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Carney says “time is of the essence.” He urged the Nigerian government to ensure that it is using all available resources to ensure the safe return of the girls.

Carney says the U.S. team would include military and law enforcement personnel capable of sharing with the Nigerians expertise in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating and victim assistance.

President Barack Obama and Kerry were to discuss the issue at a White House meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Before the White House announcement today, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson spoke with former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell.

Campbell describes Boko Haram as “a movement rather than an organization,” motivated by the belief that “both secularism and Western education promote state worship, and state worship is idolatrous.”

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young, and this HERE AND NOW. And in a few minutes, Robin will be speaking with Matt Taibbi about the lack of criminal charges against Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis. But first, the White House said this afternoon that it has offered to help in the search for the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped three weeks ago in Nigeria. White House spokesman Jay Carney says Secretary of State John Kerry and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan spoke this morning. The U.S. offered help and the Nigeria, quote, welcomed the offer of assistance.

JAY CARNEY: Our embassy is prepared to form an interdisciplinary team that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations, could help facilitate information sharing and provide victim assistance. It would include military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotitations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response.

HOBSON: Well, President Obama and Secretary Kerry are meeting this afternoon to discuss the kidnapping. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and has vowed to sell the girls as slaves. Another eight girls were kidnapped elsewhere in northern Nigeria this morning. Before the White House announcement, we spoke with John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. He's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink." I started by asking him if he thought the Nigerian government was doing everything in its power to find the girls.

AMBASSADOR JOHN CAMPBELL: The question is what the Nigerian government's capacity is to actually find the girls. It's a major challenge to be able to find the kidnapped girls in a huge territory, and there is the possibility, at least, that some of the girls may have been taken across the border into Cameroon or into Niger.

But there is no question that Nigerians are - or at least a great many of them are disappointed in what the government has done thus far.

HOBSON: Well, you say it's a major challenge to find them, although it sounds from the reporting like people have gotten close at times and didn't want to go in to where the girls might be because they're afraid of what might happen to them if they do.

CAMPBELL: That is always a consideration. In previous cases where Boko Haram or associated groups have kidnapped people and there have been armed efforts to rescue them, the kidnappers have murdered them.

HOBSON: Tell us more about Boko Haram, because for many Americans this is not a group that we've heard very much about. But obviously in Nigeria people know them pretty well.

CAMPBELL: They do. Boko Haram is a movement rather than an organization. It's highly diffuse and it's multilayered. It has warlords. It does not have an articulated political program, but it does have a goal. And the goal is essentially to establish god's kingdom on Earth through justice for the poor by the rigid application of Islamic law or sharia.

This, I would suggest, is not a political program; it's a quasi-religious aspiration. Boko Haram specifically is deeply hostile to secularism, to Western education, which it thinks promotes secularism, and it also thinks that both secularism and Western education promote state worship. And state worship is idolatrous from their perspective.

HOBSON: But they say that Western education is sinful but somehow slavery is not? And sex slavery even is not?

CAMPBELL: That's correct. And that is because they draw on aspects of Islamic tradition with which, by the way, not all Islamic scholars would agree.

HOBSON: John Campbell, is Boko Haram a threat to the United States in the way that al-Qaida is a threat to the United States?

CAMPBELL: No, not as directly. Boko Haram is a threat to the Nigerian state and Nigeria has been a friend and international partner of the United States, particularly in Africa. So in that sense, Boko Haram is a threat to U.S. interests but Boko Haram is not a threat to U.S. security.

HOBSON: John Campbell is former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. John Campbell, thanks so much for joining us.

CAMPBELL: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.