US planes hunt for Nigerian girls
MANNED US aircraft were flying over Nigeria yesterday, searching for more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists after Abuja dismissed a prisoner-swop offer from the militants.
"We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the government's permission," a senior US administration official said on Monday.
Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a new video on Monday that the girls, whose abduction has sparked global outrage, would be released only if the government freed militant fighters from custody.
Mr Shekau made the demand in a 27-minute video, which apparently showed about 130 of the teenagers who were snatched from their school in the remote north-eastern town of Chibok nearly a month ago.
"These girls have become our property, whatever we wish, we do with them," Mr Shekau said in the video, speaking in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.
"These girls remain with us until the Nigerian government releases our brothers and sisters being held in various detention facilities across the country."
The militant leader said the girls in the video had converted to Islam and all were shown in Muslim attire, reciting the first chapter of the Quran and praying at an undisclosed location.
Asked if the government would reject Mr Shekau's suggestion, Interior Minister Abba Moro told AFP: "Of course."
US State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said that US intelligence experts were "combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls".
Their disappearance has triggered global outrage, in part due to a social media campaign that has won the support of high-profile figures including US First Lady Michelle Obama, Pope Francis and Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.
A total of 276 students were abducted on April 14 from Chibok, which has a sizeable Christian community. Police say 223 are still missing.
Nigeria's government has been criticised for its slow response to the kidnapping, but has been forced into action as a result of international pressure.