Nigeria prepares raid to rescue hundreds of kidnapped girls
NIGERIAN troops were reported to be massing yesterday in preparation for an assault to free hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by a militant Islamist group.
The authorities have raised their estimate of the number of girls being held to 223. Another 53 were said to have fled from the Simbisa forest in the north of the country, where the militants had taken them.
They were taking exams at a school in the town of Chibok when it was attacked by members of Boko Haram.
Local newspapers said four battalions of troops were stationed at the north, south, east and west corners of the forest, backed up by fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and police surveillance helicopters.
A large medical team with mobile clinics and air ambulances had also been sent to the area amid fears of casualties if and when an assault was launched.
Boko Haram, which means 'western education is forbidden', is a jihadist group that has extended its sway in parts of Muslim northern Nigeria dramatically in the past two years, in part assisted by weapons smuggled across the Sahara from other Islamist groups and from Col Gaddafi's Libyan stockpiles.
It attacked the Government Girls School in Chibok on April 14 under the cover of darkness. The boarding houses were swelled by girls sent for their exams from remote locations, partly for fear of Boko Haram attacks there.
An estimated 1,500 people have died this year in fighting between the government and Boko Haram.
The state police commissioner, Tanko Lawan, said a new figure of 276 kidnapped girls, aged 15 to 18, might not be "exhaustive", since there was no definitive roll of girls in the school at the time.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, yesterday offered to do everything possible to help Nigeria deal with Boko Haram. © Telegraph