Skip to main content

Boko Haram attacks Nigerian village used by military in search for abducted girls

By Isha Sesay, Vladimir Duthiers and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 2:47 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: China offers satellite and intelligence assistance in the search for girls
  • Boko Haram militants attacked Gamboru Ngala, killing at least 150 people
  • United States and Britain are sending teams to help Nigerian forces
  • Nigerian authorities offer a reward for information leading to the girls' rescue

CNN anchor Isha Sesay will be live from Abuja on CNN International, Wednesday and Thursday at 5, 7, 8.30 and 9 p.m. CET.

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- Boko Haram launched a grisly attack on a Nigerian village in an area that troops had been using as a base in the search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by the militant group, witnesses told CNN on Wednesday.

The hourslong assault on Gamboru Ngala that left at least 150 people dead, some of whom were burned alive, is the latest in a series of brazen attacks and abductions by Boko Haram, raising concern about whether the Nigerian government can retake control of the region from the entrenched terror group.

Word of the attack follows news that President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been under fire for his handling of the mass abduction, accepted U.S., British and Chinese offers of assistance to find the schoolgirls, officials with those governments said.

It's unclear what impact the latest attack could have on the international response to Nigeria's fight with Boko Haram, which so far has concentrated on helping the government rescue 276 schoolgirls abducted on April 14.

The assault on the village came after military troops deployed to the area were called to the border area near Chad, where reports -- later determined to be false -- surfaced that the schoolgirls had been found with Boko Haram militants, witnesses and local officials said.

Malala: 'Girls in Nigeria are my sisters'
Reporter: Uncle was kidnapped in Nigeria
Anger grows over 200 missing girls
Obama: 'This is a terrible situation'

CNN cannot independently confirm the report, and attempts Wednesday to contact Nigeria's military for comment were unsuccessful.

Indiscriminate killing

Witnesses described a well-coordinated attack that began shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time Monday at a busy outdoor market in Gamboru Ngala.

Wearing military uniforms, the militants arrived with three armored personnel carriers, they said.

They shouted "Allahu Akbar" -- "God is great" -- and opened up on the market, firing rocket-propelled grenades and tossing improvised explosive devices, witnesses said.

Some marketgoers tried to take shelter in shops only to be burned alive when the gunmen set fire to a number of the businesses, the witnesses said.

A few Nigerian soldiers who had been left behind at the village could not hold off the assault and were forced to flee, they said. Many sought safe haven in nearby Cameroon, they said.

The fighters also attacked the police station during the 12-hour assault, initially facing stiff resistance. They eventually used explosives to blow the roof off the building, witnesses said. Fourteen police officers were found dead inside, they said.

The final death toll could be closer to 300, Nigerian Sen. Ahmed Zanna told CNN.

Monday's bloody attack by Boko Haram militants, some of whom U.S. officials say have been trained by al Qaeda, follows a pattern of seeking revenge against anybody who is perceived to have provided aid to the Nigerian government.

International aid taking shape

News of the attack came as U.S. officials pressed ahead with plans to provide Nigeria with law enforcement assistance and military consultations, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"Obviously, this is in the interest of the Nigerian government to accept every aspect of our assistance," she told reporters during a briefing Wednesday. "They conveyed that they were willing to do that yesterday and it continues to be in their interest to be as cooperative as possible."

U.S. officials will establish a joint coordination cell at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja where the goal will be to provide intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiation expertise, Psaki said. The cell will include U.S. military personnel, who are expected to arrive in Nigeria in the coming days, she said.

Map: Where the girls were kidnapped  Map: Where the girls were kidnapped
Map: Where the girls were kidnappedMap: Where the girls were kidnapped
Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage. Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls
US offering help for kidnapped girls

The Pentagon has started planning for how it can help Nigeria, a senior U.S. military official told CNN. It's unlikely at this point that U.S. troops would be involved in operations, the officials said.

Britain is sending a small team of experts to complement the U.S. team, a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday. The spokesman didn't specify the nature of the team's expertise.

On behalf of China, Premier Li Keqiang offered satellite and intelligence services to aid in the search.

Meanwhile, Nigerian authorities offered a reward of about $310,000 on Wednesday for information leading to the rescue of the girls.

"While calling on the general public to be part of the solution to the present security challenge, the Police High Command also reassures all citizens that any information given would be treated anonymously and with utmost confidentiality," the Nigeria Police Force said in a statement.

According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram overpowered security guards at an all-girls school in Chibok, yanked the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks. The convoy of trucks then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon.

The reward offer comes amid international outcry over the mass kidnapping in mid-April. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign initially began on Twitter. It quickly spread, with demonstrators taking to the streets over the weekend in major cities around the world to demand action.

Defending the response

Nigeria's President has been under enormous international pressure to step up efforts to rescue the girls after come after waiting three weeks to publicly acknowledge the kidnappings.

His administration, however, is defending its response -- even as details emerged this about a second mass kidnapping. At least eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15 were snatched Sunday night from the village of Warabe by Boko Haram, villagers said.

"The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think," presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said, adding that helicopters and airplanes have searched for the girls in 250 locations. More troops, he said, are on the way.

Despite the flurry of activity, the father of two of the schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram scoffed at the Nigerian government's response.

"We have never seen any military man there," said the father, who is not being identified for fear of reprisals by the government or Boko Haram.

"Had it been military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have seen them."

Members of the U.S. Congress called for action, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the abductions "abominable" and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani children's rights activist shot in the head by the Taliban, spoke out, too.

"The girls in Nigeria are my sisters and it is my responsibility that I speak up for my sisters," Yousafzai told CNN's "Amanpour."

The U.S. first lady, Michelle Obama, was among the latest high-profile figures to take to Twitter about the girls' plight, tweeting a photo of herself holding a sign that read: #BringBackOurGirls.

"Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families," she said in the post.

Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge

'I abducted your girls'

Boko Haram translates to "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language, and the group has said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa's most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The United States has branded Boko Haram a terror organization and has put a $7 million bounty on the group's elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau.

A man claiming to be Shekau appeared in a video announcing he would sell his victims. The video was first obtained Monday by Agence-France Presse.

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," he said. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."

More than 450,000 people, including celebrities and lawmakers, to date have signed a change.org petition that calls upon the world to act to save the girls. The petition calls on Jonathan and the government "to ensure all schools are safe places to learn, protected from attack."

CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery

Isha Sesay and Vladimir Duthiers reported from Abuja; Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. Journalist Aminu Abubaker contributed from Kano, Nigeria. Journalist Aminu Abubakar and CNN's Michael Pearson and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Arwa Damon meets two young orphans, now in Niger, whose mother died years ago -- and whose father was killed in a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
A small river marks the border between Niger and Nigeria -- a shallow divide between security and the horrors of Boko Haram.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that U.S. sources now believe Boko Haram insurgents may be hiding on the islands of Lake Chad.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Isha Sesay talks to journalist Aminu Abubakar who says approximately 500 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as
Police in Nigeria's capital Tuesday made a U-turn, saying a ban on protests in support of the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April does not exist.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A top Nigerian official claims to know where the missing schoolgirls are located, as Arwa Damon reports.
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Arwa Damon reports on Nigerian schools sitting empty as residents live in fear of Boko Haram.
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Half of a yellow sun poster
It's one of the most important Nigerian stories to hit the big screen -- yet the director says Nigeria's bureaucracy is purposely preventing its release.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Opinion: The media turns Boko Haram into 'superstar monsters' -- which is exactly what they want.
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir speaks with the mothers of two missing Nigerian schoolgirls.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
With fear in her eyes, a young woman tells CNN's Nima Elbagir, the first journalist to visit Chibok, how she fled gun-toting Islamic extremists.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Women in repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele, who recently directed Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Half of a Yellow Sun," discusses his remarkable journey.
updated 10:31 PM EDT, Sat May 10, 2014
From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Nigeria woke up to a brand new economy, apparently. But the country are suffering and its people responded with a hiss.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness sake return this woman's calls.
Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.
ADVERTISEMENT