After suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight more girls on Tuesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed a U.S. offer to send an American team to the country to help the Abuja government track down the more than 200 kidnapped girls, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls aged 12 to 15 from a village near one of their strongholds in northeast Nigeria overnight, police and residents said on Tuesday, three weeks after a separate kidnapping operation in April in which the group seized more than 200 schoolgirls who are yet to be rescued.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the American embassy in Nigeria is "prepared to form a coordination cell" that would include U.S. military personnel and law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations.
Psaki said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Jonathan on Tuesday and that "President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry's offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response."
The Nigerian government, which has come under fire for failing to protect the girls from the growing Boko Haram insurgency, said the rebels are still holding 223 girls they abducted from a secondary school on April 14.
A police source, who could not be named, said the girls kidnapped Tuesday were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food.
"They were many, and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army color. They started shooting in our village," said Lazarus Musa, a resident of Warabe, where the attack happened.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau acknowledged for the first time on Monday that the group had taken the girls in April and said they would be sold. “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Shekau said, according to Agence France-Presse, which reported that they obtained a video from the group.
UNICEF on Tuesday condemned the kidnappings and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“That the girls are alleged to have been abducted to prevent them from attending school is especially abhorrent," it said in a statement. “We implore all those with influence on the perpetrators to do everything they can to secure the safe return of the girls – and to bring their abductors to justice."
Al Jazeera and wire services