YOLA, Nigeria — Islamic extremists blew up a bridge, killed an unknown number of people and abducted the wife and two children of a retired police officer in northeastern Nigeria, residents said Saturday, as an international effort got underway to rescue 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the militants.
News of the Friday night attack came amid growing condemnation by Muslims in Nigeria and abroad, and by some Islamic militants online, against Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network and its actions.
A team of French experts arrived in Nigeria on Saturday to help look for the girls, according to an official in President François Hollande’s office in Paris. British security experts arrived Friday to join Nigerian and U.S. personnel, and Britain said its aim is not only to help in the crisis over the girls but to defeat Boko Haram.
International anger at the prolonged failure of Nigeria’s military to rescue the girls was joined Saturday by first lady Michelle Obama. In a radio address on the eve of the Sunday honoring mothers in the United States, she said she and President Obama are “outraged and heartbroken” over the April 15 mass abduction.
“In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” the first lady said, referring to Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12. “We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”
One parent, the Rev. Enoch Mark, described his despair and anger at the military for not yet finding his two abducted daughters. “For a good 11 days, our daughters were sitting in one place,” he told the Associated Press. “They camped them near Chibok [the town from which they were abducted], not more than 30 kilometers, and no help in hand. For a good 11 days.”
In the northeastern war zone, local government chairman Abawu James Watharda said no one could count the dead from Friday night’s attack on the town of Liman Kara because the 3,000 survivors had fled.
Fleeing residents say the insurgents blew up the bridge that links the states of Adamawa and Borno, which are under a military state of emergency to halt the Islamic uprising. On Monday, militants destroyed a bridge linking Nigeria to neighboring Chad, where Boko Haram has hideouts in mountain caves.
In an interview Saturday with the BBC Hausa Service, former Nigerian military ruler Gen. Ibrahim Babangida urged Nigeria’s Muslims to rise up against extremists sullying the name of Islam.
“Islam enjoins you to live peacefully with fellow human beings,” he said. “Therefore, anybody who will come and smear our name, all Muslims should kick against that.”
From Doha, Qatar, the International Union for Muslim Scholars condemned “the terrible crimes offensive to Islam” and said the actions of Boko Haram “are very far from Islamic teachings.”