- The United States expands drone search for abducted school girls
Islamic militants killed 48 villagers in northeastern Nigeria near the town where they kidnapped 300 schoolgirls, and the U.S. said Wednesday it was sending in 80 military personnel to expand the drone search for the captives.
The developments came hours after twin car bombings claimed at least 130 lives in the central city of Jos — an escalating campaign of violence blamed on the Boko Haram terrorist network and its drive to impose an Islamic state on Nigeria.
The three villages attacked overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday are near the town of Chibok, where the girls were abducted from their boarding school in a brazen April 15 assault that has ignited a global movement to secure their freedom.
Violence in Nigeria
On Monday a car bomb at a bus station killed 24 people in the Christian quarter of the northern Muslim city of Kano, where police later defused another massive car bomb. Two separate bomb blasts in April around another bus station, in the nation's capital of Abuja, killed more than 120 people and wounded more than 200.
The attacks on Monday and Tuesday took place after regional and Western leaders pledged "total war" on the militant group at a weekend summit in Paris.
- The Associated Press
Apagu Maidaga of Alagarno said residents of that village hid in the bush and watched while the extremists set ablaze their homes of thatch-roofed mud huts.
"We saw our village up in flames as we hid in the bush waiting for the dawn; we lost everything," he told The Associated Press in a telephone call.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was sending in 80 military personnel to help in the search for the missing schoolgirls. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and the Senate, Obama said the service members were being sent to Chad, which borders northeastern Nigeria, to help with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft missions over Nigeria and the nearby region.
The U.S. mission will help expand drone searches of the region, said Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, adding that this latest deployment will not be involved in ground searches.
The drone — a Predator — will be in addition to the unarmed Global Hawks already being used, a senior U.S. official said. The new flights will be based out of Chad and allow the military to expand its search effort, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has come under intense national and international criticism for its lack of progress in rescuing the 276 schoolgirls. Besides the United States, Britain, Israel and several other nations have offered assistance in the hunt for the girls, amid fears they would be sold into slavery, married off to fighters or worse, following repeated threats by Boko Haram's leader.
The insurgents have demanded the release of detained Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls — a swap officials say the government will not consider.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful," has targeted schools, as well as churches, mosques, marketplaces, bus terminals and other spots where large numbers of civilians gather in its violent 5-year campaign to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, whose 170 million people are half Christians and half Muslims.
In Jos, where at least 118 people were killed in twin bomb attacks Tuesday on a bustling bus terminal and a market, residents joined rescue workers armed with body bags in looking for missing loved ones.
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Most victims were women and children vendors, said Mohammed Abdulsalam of the National Emergency Management Agency.
"We expect to find more bodies in the rubble," Abdulsalam said.
"Allahu akhbar!" some young Muslim men yelled provocatively at an AP photographer near the scene, using the war cry of Islamic militants that means "God is great" within hearing of soldiers at a checkpoint.
Jos is tense with fears the attack blamed on Islamic extremists could inflame religious rivalry. The city in central Nigeria sits on a volatile fault line dividing Nigeria's mainly Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south and has been a flashpoint in the past for deadly conflict between adherents of the two religions. Boko Haram, the group suspected in the attack, wants to impose an Islamic state under strict Shariah law in Nigeria, though half the country's 170 million people are Christians.
Dozens of people wailing
Gloria Paul was among a handful of people searching for loved ones at Bingham University Teaching Hospital. She was looking for her husband but all she had found so far was his car parked near Terminus Market, its windows all shattered. Dozens of wailing people crowded outside the morgue at the Jos University Teaching Hospital next to the bomb site, waited their turn to see if family members were among the dead.
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Security forces cordoned off the area of mounds of rubble, burned-out vehicles and razed buildings with the debris of panic scattered around — a sandal here, a hat there. Exploded mangoes and pineapples rotted in the sun, their sickly sweet smell mixing with the stench of rotting human flesh.
A charred engine block was all that remained of the grain-filled truck that held the second bomb.
Police anti-bomb squad officers investigated a crater left by one of the blasts.
'I make bold to say that the Nigerian army is steadily and surely reversing the ugly menace of terrorism and insurgency in the northeast part of this great nation.' - Brig.-Gen Olaijde Laleye
The search for survivors was halted Tuesday night by fires ignited in buildings by the massive blasts that were heard kilometres away. Firefighters fought through the night to douse the blazes that collapsed buildings, Abdulsalam of the national emergency agency told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Nigerian army spokesman Brig.-Gen. Olajide Laleye also insisted victory was close Wednesday, dismissing reports of troops suffering from low morale and lack of basic equipment including bullet-proof vests.
"I make bold to say that the Nigerian army is steadily and surely reversing the ugly menace of terrorism and insurgency in the northeast part of this great nation," he said at an army recruiting campaign.
But extremist attacks have increased in frequency and deadliness this year, with more than 2,000 killed in the insurgency compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.