KANO, Nigeria - Calls for the United States to help find and free hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria are mounting after Boko Haram claimed the abduction and threatened to sell the girls as "slaves".
"I abducted your girls," the Islamist group's leader Abubakar Shekau said in a 57-minute video obtained by AFP Monday, referring to the 276 students kidnapped three weeks ago from their boarding school in Chibok, northern Nigeria.
"I will repeat this: Western education should fold up. I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Shekau said, adding that his group was holding the girls as "slaves", in comments that stoked international outrage.
US officials said they were worried many of the students, who are aged 16 to 18, had now been smuggled across Nigeria's borders into other countries which could complicate the so-far fruitless efforts to find them.
"We cannot close our eyes to the clear evidence of barbarity unfolding before us in Nigeria," said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, her voice breaking as she addressed the Senate.
As anger and frustration escalates in Nigeria at the government's failure to find the girls, six US senators have introduced a resolution calling for action.
"We and our African allies should do everything to help the Nigerian government rescue innocent girls and return them to their families," Senator Dick Durbin, one of the resolution's sponsors, said in a tweet.
No US military help
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf condemned the abduction as "despicable" and said Washington was standing by to assist "in any way we think that is appropriate".
However, she declined to outline specific US help and dismissed suggestions that the US would deploy military assets on the ground.
Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall is on her way to Nigeria and will meet with senior officials in the coming days to discuss the crisis, Harf said.
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has been under mounting pressure to act since gunmen stormed the girls' school on April 14, forcing them from their dormitories on to trucks and driving them into the bush.
Fifty-three of the girls managed to escape from the militants but 223 were still being held, police said last Friday.
In his first public comments on the abduction on Sunday, Jonathan pledged that the government would find the girls and bring them home.
"This is a trying time for this country. It is painful," he said, adding that he had sought international assistance in tackling the country's security challenges.
Hours before the girls were taken, the capital Abuja was hit by its deadliest ever attacks, a car bomb on the outskirts of the city that killed 75 people, also claimed by Boko Haram.
A copy-cat bombing in the same spot on May 1 has put the country further on edge as Abuja prepares to host a World Economic Forum summit that opens on Wednesday and includes a visit from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.