PARIS (AFP) – France on Wednesday offered Nigeria a “special team” to look for more than 200 girls kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in an incident that has triggered global shock and condemnation.
The extremists seized a first batch of schoolgirls in Nigeria’s restive northeast three weeks ago, saying they were holding them as “slaves” and threatening to sell them, and have since kidnapped other girls in the area.
“A special team with all our resources in the region is at the disposal of Nigeria to help in the search and recovery of these young girls,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament.
President Francois Hollande is due to hold phone talks with his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan on the subject on Wednesday evening, sources close to the French leader said.
France already has troops on the ground in Mali not far away, where they continue to engage in intelligence gathering to further weaken armed Islamists in the north after driving them out of towns they had occupied for months.
“The president gave the defence minister and myself the order… to put our (intelligence) services at the disposal of Nigeria and neighbouring countries,” Fabius said.
Described as “heartbreaking” and “outrageous” by US President Barack Obama on Tuesday, the kidnappings have drawn several pledges of help from the international community.
Washington has deployed military experts to Nigeria to help search for the girls and Britain has offered unspecified practical help.
Earlier Wednesday, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll denounced the kidnappings as “one of the most atrocious forms of terrorism because it involves kidnapping and trafficking children.”
His comments came as Boko Haram this week kidnapped another 11 girls from a village in Borno state, the epicentre of the group’s five-year Islamist uprising.
And on Wednesday, witnesses and a local senator said the extremist group had staged a bloody attack in the northeastern town of Gamboru Ngala, firing on fleeing civilians and killing hundreds.