UK experts arrive to help find kidnapped schoolgirls

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British experts have arrived in the Nigerian capital to help find at least 276 girls being held by Islamic militants in north-eastern Nigeria as an international effort began taking hold.

They were expected to work closely with US officials and agents in the search for the missing girls, the British government said as Boko Haram militants continued to stage attacks.

China and France have also promised help. Britain said its aim was not only to help with the current crisis but to defeat Boko Haram. “The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

A local government official said the Islamic extremists bombed a bridge linking the town of Gamboru to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, the headquarters of the Nigerian military offensive. Gamboru was attacked on Monday by Boko Haram, leaving a number of dead estimated from 100 to as many as 300.

The bombing of the bridge would prevent army convoys reaching Gamboru while leaving the way open for the insurgents to escape across a strategic bridge into neighbouring Cameroon.

The mass kidnapping of the schoolgirls has focused the world’s attention on Boko Haram.

President Goodluck Jonathan said at an economic forum on Thursday: “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.”

However, his government stands accused of being slow to mount operations to rescue the girls, who were kidnapped on April 15.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, abducted more than 300 girls from a boarding school in the north-east town of Chibok.

On Thursday the government of Borno state, where Chibok is located, identified 53 girls who escaped, potentially subjecting the girls to stigma in this conservative society.