Paris summit attendees work toward plan to find and free missing Nigerian girls


Intelligence officers, heads of state, diplomats meet in Paris to discuss strategy for combating Boko Haram. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
May 17

Boko Haram has ample funds, highly sophisticated weaponry and advanced training with some of the world’s most experienced terrorists, the French president said Saturday as he and African leaders grappled with how to combat the Islamic extremist group whose reach extends to five countries.

Hours after two more attacks in Boko Haram strongholds — one in Nigeria that left a village burned and 40 people dead and another in Cameroon — the leaders agreed to improve the policing of frontiers, share intelligence and trace the weapons and cash that are the group’s lifeblood.

At a summit in Paris intended to hammer out a plan to find and free 276 schoolgirls being held hostage by Boko Haram, intelligence officials from the United States, Europe and Africa shared information while heads of state and top diplomats tackled policy.

“This group is armed, with heavy weapons of an unimaginable sophistication and the ability to use them,” French President François Hollande said.

He said the weapons came from Libya and that the training took place in Mali before the ouster of its Islamist leaders, who had been linked to al-Qaeda. As for the money, Hollande said its origins were murky.

“Boko Haram is acting clearly as an al-Qaeda operation,” said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has reluctantly accepted outside help after years of insisting that the group is a local problem.

Cameroon, which French officials said until recently also treated Boko Haram as a purely Nigerian issue, has become increasingly involved. The attack late Friday on a Chinese engineering firm’s camp left at least 10 people missing and one person dead. China is a major investor in the region and has helped build infrastructure, public health projects and sports facilities. It imports crude oil, timber and cotton.

The camp was in the same nearly trackless parkland where the girls were initially taken after an attack on their school in northern Nigeria, highlighting Boko Haram’s ability to cross borders unimpeded.

An intelligence cell involving French, British and U.S. agents is operating out of Nigeria, but Boko Haram has seemingly continued to strike without hindrance.

Suspected Islamic militants attacked another northeastern village before dawn Saturday, killing about 40 people and burning all of the huts as well as three vehicles, according to a member of a vigilante group that went to the village, Dalwa-Masuba, 50 miles southwest of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because his group does not permit members to talk to reporters.

Hollande also emphasized that Boko Haram had clearly established ties with other terrorist groups in Africa, making it a concern throughout the continent and beyond.

That could provide an opening for U.N. sanctions against the group to freeze its assets and impose travel bans against members. Wendy Sherman, a U.S. diplomat who was at Saturday’s talks, said the sanctions could come as soon as next week.

“I can’t imagine any country which would not support this designation,” she said.

— Associated Press

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