updated 05/07/2014 AT 6:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/07/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find nearly 300 teenage girls missing since they were kidnapped from school three weeks ago by an Islamist extremist group that has threatened to sell them.
Obama said the immediate priority is finding the girls, but that the Boko Haram group must also be dealt with.
“In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies,” Obama said in an interview with NBC’s Today, in some of his first public comments on what he said was a “terrible situation” in the West African nation.
“But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like this that … can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives,” Obama said of Boko Haram.
The brazen April 15 abduction has sparked international outrage and mounting demands, including by some in Washington, for Nigeria to spare no effort to find and free the girls before they can be sold into slavery or otherwise harmed.
Angelina Jolie, a longtime human rights activist and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Anténio Guterres, condemned the actions, saying on Tuesday: “The kidnapping of these young Nigerian girls is an unthinkable cruelty. Sadly, of course, there is real evil in the world. You watch the news, and you see all of the people suffering and so much cruelty.”
Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the country’s remote northeast. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 managed to escape.
Obama said he was glad the Nigerian government was accepting help from U.S. military and law enforcement advisers.
“Obviously, what’s happening is awful, and, as a father of two girls, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through,” he told CBS News in an interview. Obama said the U.S. has long sought to work with Nigeria to contain Boko Haram.
“You’ve got one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in Boko Haram in Nigeria. They’ve been killing people ruthlessly for many years now and we’ve already been seeking greater cooperation with the Nigerians,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
He said the kidnapping and subsequent outrage over Nigeria’s inability to rescue the girls “may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime.”