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Why can’t the Nigerian government crack down on Boko Haram?

April 22, 2014 at 6:35 PM EST
Radical Islamist group Boko Haram is thought to have kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in northern Nigeria, in addition to other atrocities this week, including the bombing of a bus station. Judy Woodruff talks to The Christian Science Monitor’s Heather Murdock, for more on what authorities have learned about the missing girls.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Their name means Western Education is Sin, and in the past week, they have sown terror across Nigeria.

The radical Islamic group Boko Haram planted a bomb at a bus station in the capital city of Abuja on April 14, killing at least 70 people. That same day, it’s believed that they kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in northern Nigeria, taking them deep into a forest. The students’ fate and condition are unknown.

A short time ago I spoke via Skype to freelance reporter Heather Murdock, who is covering the story for “The Christian Science Monitor.” She was in Lagos, Nigeria.

And a warning: Some of the images shown during the interview may be disturbing.

Heather Murdock, thank you for talking with us.

First of all, what is the latest on the whereabouts of these schoolgirls?

HEATHER MURDOCK, The Christian Science Monitor: Well, yesterday, the governor of Borno state visited the town where the girls were abducted from, and a lot more information came to light.

They have discovered in the final tally that it was actually 234 girls kidnapped, as opposed to the 129 they originally said. And also, they are now saying that 190 of those girls are still missing. And none of them have been freed.

The ones that have escaped, 43 of them, have escaped on their own either while they were taken or in the days that followed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s taken a week to figure out how many girls were kidnapped. What about the parents, the police in the area? What have they been doing?

HEATHER MURDOCK: Well, the parents say the police and soldiers have been in the bush searching for them. Vigilante groups have formed. Some vigilante groups have formed prior to this.

They’re searching the bush. They apparently also have hunters and farmers searching the Bush. But this forest, Sambisa forest, is so large and so dangerous, that they say they just haven’t found them yet. There have also been rumors of some girls being spotted collecting water. But the local people had told the vigilante groups that heard these rumors that if they went to try to find those girls in the area, they probably would be killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why — has Boko Haram said they have done this and have they said why they have taken the schoolgirls?

HEATHER MURDOCK: No.

Last week, Abubakar Shekau, the guy who says he’s the leader of Boko Haram, put out a video taking credit for the bombing in Abuja on the same day the girls were taken. They said nothing about taking the girls. Some people still believe it was Boko Haram that did this, because Boko Haram is a factious group.

And not a lot is known about its structure. It’s possible that the part of Boko Haram that is ruled by Abubakar Shekau, who now says he’s actually in the capital of Abuja, did in fact do this bombing in the capital, and another group of people that call themselves Boko Haram that may or may not be directly connected stole the girls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why isn’t the government of Nigeria able to get them under some kind of control and go after them?

HEATHER MURDOCK: This is the question everyone in Nigeria is asking. They have had three states under emergency rule for three years now — I’m sorry — for one year now, and the violence just keeps getting worse.

This year, I have heard that more than 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of this year alone. And the government says they are throwing in all of the resources that they possibly can, and they still can’t slow down this group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how well-armed is this group, Boko Haram, supposed to be?

HEATHER MURDOCK: My understanding is that they are increasingly well-armed with heavy artillery, trucks, tons of guns, hand grenades, bombs. They have put out videos recently showing militants on trucks in the — dozens of militants in each truck with machine guns mounted on the trucks attacking a military base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Heather, we know that Nigeria is hosting a World Economic Forum in Abuja, the capital city, in the next few weeks.

There must be concern about security — or is there concern about security, given what Boko Haram is able to do?

HEATHER MURDOCK: Yes, I think that the World Economic Forum for Africa is on the top of the minds of security officials in Abuja because there’s going to be more than 1,000 people coming here, and a lot of heads of state.

And we just had an attack right there. But, officially, they say that they are ready and that they have secured the town, that they will beef up security even more. They haven’t given a lot of details about how they will do that, but the government of Nigeria has been very clear that they plan to go ahead with this — with this conference, and they don’t expect any more violence. At least, that’s what they say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does the government say about Boko Haram?

HEATHER MURDOCK: Well, I mean, it’s officially a terrorist group in Nigeria, as it is the U.S.

And they say repeatedly that they plan on crushing Boko Haram within a few months. They have been a little bit more quiet recently since the violence has gotten worse. They also talk about negotiations, although there hasn’t seemed — there doesn’t seem to be any movement in the negotiations recently.

And they have also talked recently about trying to solve the problem with what they call a softer approach, meaning de-radicalization prisons, and education and economic reform. But we actually haven’t seen any of the fruits of that effort yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, almost 200 schoolgirls still missing.

Well, Heather Murdock, we thank you for talking with us.

HEATHER MURDOCK: Thank you.