Suspected Muslim Extremists Step Up Attacks In Nigeria

Schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria Tuesday. The suspects are believed to be with a radical group blamed for a bombing Monday. Kelly McEvers talks to Michelle Faul of The Associated Press.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And I'm Kelly McEvers.

More than 100 school girls were kidnapped yesterday in Nigeria. Heavily armed men snatched the girls from their school. It's suspected the kidnappers are from Boko Haram, a radical Islamic terrorist network that's being blamed for a lot of violence in that country recently. A bombing in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, on Monday killed at least 75 people, the deadliest bombing ever in the capital.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, and the home of the continent's biggest economy. To help us understand what's happening there, we're joined by Michelle Faul, chief Africa correspondent for the Associated Press. She's in Lagos, Nigeria. Good morning.

MICHELLE FAUL: Good morning to you.

MCEVERS: Michelle, can you first just tell us about this kidnapping? What happened?

FAUL: Well, they say armed men came to this girl's secondary school after midnight. They shot and killed a soldier and a police officer, and they made off in a pickup truck with about 100 of them. The good news is that some of them escaped. People - some of the girls who got back to their town say that they clung to low-hanging branches and just managed to jump off the back of this open-back truck. Others just jumped off the truck onto the dirt road. We don't know yet how many have managed to get away. Boko Haram has been doing this. They use these young women as sex slaves, as cooks and as porters.

MCEVERS: And then there was that bombing Monday in the capital. Tell us what happened there.

FAUL: The bombing occurred in Abuja. It was at a really busy bus station, and the timing clearly aimed at maximum casualties. Thousands of people were gathering, trying to get to work at like, quarter to 7 in the morning. And this explosion - it's not clear whether it was buried in the ground or was in a vehicle - destroyed more than 30 vehicles. I mean, there were secondary explosions as the vehicle fuel tanks ignited; causing more damage, of course, and more casualties. That casualty figure of 75 dead is expected to rise because the health minister says they haven't yet been able to put together the parts of the people who were blown apart, to work out how many other people died.

MCEVERS: Is there a sense that authorities are doing enough to stop them?

FAUL: In May last year - that's nearly a year ago - President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the three northeastern states that are the stronghold of Boko Haram. And at that point, he admitted that these Islamic extremists had gained control of entire towns and villages. But the army, the police, the security services, they've been having a much more difficult time getting these extremists out of hideouts. This year, there have been almost daily bombardments, followed by ground assaults, to try and flush the insurgents out of there. If you were to believe the military, they would say that they now have the upper hand, and that the insurgency is concentrated in the fringes of the northeast of Nigeria. But clearly, what happened in Abuja on Monday is increasing doubts about any ability that the military have to try and contain the insurgency.

MCEVERS: And just quickly, remind us who Boko Haram is, and what it is they want.

FAUL: Well, their nickname means Western education is forbidden - Boko Haram. They believe that the West is a corrupting influence, and they want to create an Islamic state in all of Nigeria. Now half of the population of Nigeria is Christian. They say that having sharia law in Nigeria will halt the endemic corruption and the polity that it engenders in this country.

MCEVERS: Michelle Faul is chief Africa correspondent for the Associated Press. She joined us from Lagos, Nigeria. Thanks so much.

FAUL: You're welcome.

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