WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) - The United States is sending technical experts to aid the Nigerian government's search for nearly 300 teenage girls who were kidnapped from their school in mid-April, the White House announced Tuesday. The mass abduction has sparked international outrage and mounting demands for Nigeria do more to free the girls.
As CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported, the hundreds of schoolgirls were taken by Nigerian militants who released a video bragging about selling them as slaves. Eight more girls were taken Monday night, CBS 2 learned.
"Time is of the essence,'' said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Girls as young as 12 were captured to be sold as sex slaves for as little as $12 each, Kramer reported. They are being held by the Islamic terror group Boko Haram, whose name translates into "Western Education Is Forbidden."
President Obama called the group a serious problem and said that the U.S. would do everything it could to aid in recovery efforts.
"This organization, Boko Haram, has been one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in the world. We'd long sought to work with Nigeria on dealing with them and we're going to do everything we can to asist them in recovering these young women," President Obama said.
"Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed," said Carney.
Boko Haram released a video where its leader said the schoolgirls are now slaves.
"By God, we'll sell them in the market," he vowed in the video. "Girls should be married out at the age of nine or twelve."
The video marks the first public claim of responsibility for the April 15 kidnapping that has become a national embarrassment, Kramer reported.
Parents of the girls say the government has provided little help.
"They did not even believe it that the girls were abducted," protester Fatima Zanna Ganna said.
Bronwyn Bruton, an expert on African extremist groups, said Boko Haram will take as little as $12 for each girl, seeking to sell them to people in neighboring countries. Some may go to members of Boko Haram, which has ties to al Qaeda.
"They would be sex slaves, essentially. They would bear children for the commanders, they would cook, they would clean, they would carry things," she said.
"What's being done is barbaric and gutless. it's hard to believe that people would do this in any society anywhere in the world. It just turns your stomach," Sen. Charles Schumer said.
He said the U.S. government can provide surveillance and intelligence to help rescue the girls from the terrorists, whose goal is to overthrow the government, set up an Islamic state and operate under Sharia law.
"We are about the best in the world, far and away, at surveilling, finding out who's talking to who," said Schumer. "We can also give them intelligence about what we know about these groups. We know far more about these groups than people might imagine."
Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the longstanding offer of U.S. assistance during a conversation Tuesday with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
"The president was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately,'' Kerry told reporters at a State Department news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "We are immediately engaging in order to implement this. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls.''
President Obama said that appropriate action must be taken, CBS 2's Tracee Carrasco reported.
"We're sending in a team made up of our military and law enforcement and other experts and we're very glad that Nigeria's accepted the help," the President said.
The experts, including a team to be assembled by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, will include U.S. military and law enforcement personnel capable of sharing their skills on intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance, as well as officials with other expertise, Carney said.
The U.S. was not considering sending armed forces, Carney said.
Kerry said the U.S. has been in touch with Nigeria "from day one'' of the crisis. But repeated offers of U.S. assistance were ignored until Kerry and Jonathan spoke Tuesday amid growing international concern over the fate of the girls in the three weeks since their April 15 abduction from their school in the country's remote northeast. Kerry said Nigeria had its own strategy for how to proceed.
"I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort,'' Kerry said. "And it will begin immediately. I mean, literally, immediately.''
A statement from Jonathan's office said the U.S. offer "includes the deployment of U.S. security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation.'' The statement added that Nigeria's security agencies are working at "full capacity'' to find the girls and would appreciate the addition of American "counter-insurgency know-how and expertise.''
Nigeria's police have said more than 300 girls were abducted. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 escaped.
Nigeria's Islamic extremist leader, Abubakar Shekau, has threatened to sell the girls. Shekau also claimed responsibility for the abduction and warned that his group, Boko Haram, will attack more schools and abduct more girls.
The State Department on Tuesday warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Nigeria.
Congress held a moment of silence for the kidnapped girls Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand participated.
Earlier this year, Boko Haram slaughtered 50 teenage boys at school. Some were burned alive.
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