NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria by an Islamic extremist group an “act of terrorism” and accused the Nigerian government of being “somewhat derelict” in protecting its people.
Clinton, speaking at a philanthropy conference in New York on Wednesday, forcefully urged the Nigerian government to do everything it can to bring the captive girls home safely and accept help from the United States and other nations.
“The seizure of these young women by this radical extremist group, Boko Haram, is abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost by the government of Nigeria,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts at Philanthropy New York.
The April 15 abduction has generated outrage around the globe and calls for Nigeria to liberate the girls before they can be sold into slavery or harmed.
Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the country’s remote northeast. Of that number, 276 remained in captivity and 53 managed to escape.
The terrorist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to sell the girls during a grainy video released this week.
The Pentagon said it was sending fewer than 10 troops to Nigeria as part of the U.S. effort to help find the girls but had no plans to launch a military operation. The troops, part of a larger U.S. assistance team that will include State Department and Justice Department personnel, will help with communications, logistics and intelligence planning.
Clinton said the Nigerian government “has been, in my view, somewhat derelict in its responsibility toward protecting boys and girls, men and women, in northern Nigeria in the last years. They need to make it a priority to do everything they can to try to bring these girls home safety.”
Many, including Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama, have taken to Twitter to urge the girls’ release with the popular hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls.”
The hashtag has become a rallying cry for the movement worldwide, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported. As of Thursday morning, it had been mentioned in over 1.6 million tweets, “CBS This Morning” reported.
Experts say the attention that the kidnapping has garnered might be exactly what Boko Haram wanted.
“It certainly seems like this was a goal of the group. At the same time, raising international attention about the plight of the girls is important because it brings a cooperative regional and international approach to dealing with them,” Sarah Margon, Human Rights Watch, explained.
The group has been on some local radars for some time. Long Island Congressman Peter King wrote to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two years ago and urged her to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.
“Once it’s designated as a foreign terrorist organization then the justice department can take legal action against it including seizing funds, bringing indictments, and it gives us much more leverage,” King said, “For the life of me I cannot understand why the Secretary of State did not want to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization.”
Others in the international community are also speaking out, including Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls.
“Very sad,” she said. “We should not remain silent. If we remain silent, this will spread. If you want to stop it, you have to speak.”
Locals with ties to Nigeria have been closely as events continue to unfold an ocean away.
“They’re innocent girls, they don’t deserve it,” said Brooklyn resident Shola Fashina, whose sister attends a boarding school in Nigeria. “I could imagine what the families are going through and I’m really, really praying that the release of the girls happens very soon.”
Attacks blamed on Boko Haram have left at least 1,500 people dead in Nigeria already this year, predominantly in the heavily-Muslim north, but the group also waged a successful bomb attack in the capital Abuja this spring.
Earlier this week, the State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Nigeria.
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