Nigeria said a key suspect in a bombing that killed 75 people in Abuja was arrested in Sudan as the U.S. conducts surveillance flights searching for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped last month by Boko Haram Islamists.
Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, a U.K.-born, former Nigerian military intelligence officer and army deserter, was arrested in Sudan by Interpol, Mike Omeri, a spokesman for the government, told reporters today in the capital, Abuja. “Arrangements are being made to extradite him to Nigeria,” he said.
The capital’s worst attack on April 14 in the Nyanya district occurred the same day insurgents attacked a school in Chibok in the northeastern state of Borno and abducted 276 schoolgirls. Two weeks later another bomb went off meters away from the site of the previous one, killing 19 people. Boko Haram took responsibility for the attacks.
Army Lieutenant-Colonel Myles Caggins confirmed the use of U.S. planes in efforts to locate the girls. In addition, a Global Hawk drone made by Northrop Grumman Corp. is assisting in the search, according to U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing the addition of the unmanned aircraft.
The U.S. has joined countries including the U.K., China and Israel in offering to help Nigeria rescue the girls from Boko Haram. The group has conducted a violent campaign since 2009 to impose Islamic law in Africa’s top oil producer, leaving more than 4,000 people dead and forcing almost half a million to flee their homes, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
The U.S. is “not actively considering” sending in any special operations forces for a potential rescue, White House press secretary Jay Carney said today in Washington. While the U.S. military is advising Nigerian officials, “we would have to know where the girls are” before making any decision about a rescue operation.
The kidnapping sparked international outrage, and a global campaign to free the girls has been joined by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Australia’s government said today it plans to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, according to an e-mailed statement.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was criticized for not speaking publicly about the issue for almost three weeks. Jonathan yesterday asked parliament to extend a year-old state of emergency in three northeastern states where Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has focused its attacks.
Nigeria said this week it’s considering a prisoner exchange with Boko Haram after the militant group threatened to hold the schoolgirls until its detained members are freed.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, made the demand in a video sent to reporters on May 12 that shows about 130 girls reciting lines from the Koran. In a previous video, Shekau had threatened to sell the girls in “markets” and marry them off.
Staff and parents at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok have identified 77 girls in the video, according to Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima’s office.
A month after the kidnapping, it’s now almost impossible to mount a rescue operation, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The girls have probably been split up, sold into slavery or taken across Nigeria’s borders, the official said. Even if they were still together, a rescue operation against their heavily armed and experienced kidnappers in a remote area would risk killing a substantial number of the hostages, he said.
Enoch Mark, whose daughter was among those abducted, said today that the authorities should give in to the kidnappers’ demands for an exchange.
“The federal government should yield to the request of Boko Haram and release the prisoners in exchange for our daughters,” Mark, 47, said by phone from Chibok. “With this development I think the end of Boko Haram has come.”
Nigerian authorities haven’t released official figures on the number of jailed Boko Haram prisoners. Military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.