* Amnesty claims army had warning of attack
* Saudi Arabia grand mufti condemns Boko Haram
* US Senate committee to hold hearings over attack
(Adds Amnesty, Nigeria defence, Interpol, US Senate committee)
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
ABUJA, May 9 Nigerian President Goodluck
Jonathan said on Friday he believed 200 schoolgirls abducted by
Islamist militants last month in an attack that has stirred
global outrage are still in his country and have not been moved
to neighbouring Cameroon.
As condemnation of the abductions spread, Saudi Arabia's
grand mufti, the top religious authority in the birthplace of
Islam, said Boko Haram rebels who conducted the abductions had
"set up to smear the image of Islam".
Jonathan's government has been criticized for its slow
response to the hostage crisis, and Friday is the first time he
has said where he thinks the girls are being held.
"There are stories that they have moved them outside of the
country. But if they move that number of girls to Cameroon,
people will see, so I believe they are still in Nigeria,"
Jonathan told journalists.
"We are also working with the experts that will use remote
sensors to see them (insurgents) wherever they are. So that
basically says they are within the Sambisa area," Jonathan said,
referring to a forest that is a known Boko Haram hideout near
the school from where the girls were abducted.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum
in the Nigerian capital. The event showcased investment
opportunities in Africa's biggest economy, but was partially
overshadowed by the kidnapping and a broader militant threat.
Boko Haram's struggle for an Islamic state has killed
thousands since it erupted in mid-2009 and has destabilized
swathes of the northeast of Africa's top oil producer, as well
as neighbours Cameroon and Niger.
Militants stormed a secondary school in the village of
Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14, and kidnapped the
girls, who were taking exams at the time. Fifty have since
escaped, but more than 200 remain with the insurgents.
Nigeria's military has struggled to maintain security in the
turbulent northeast as Boko Haram grows bolder.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a
statement, citing multiple interviews with sources, that the
security forces had been warned more than four hours in advance
about the school attack but did not do enough to stop it.
"The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko
Haram's impending raid but failed to take the immediate action
needed to stop it will only amplify the national and
international outcry at this horrific crime," said Netsanet
Belay, Amnesty's Africa director of research and advocacy.
Nigeria's Defence Headquarters spokesman Chris Olukolade
dismissed Amnesty's report as baseless and said it was aimed at
tarring the reputation of the country's authorities.
"The report is just a collation of the rumours, views and
allegations of their fellow detractors and local operatives," he
Saudi Arabia's grand mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh
said Boko Haram had been "misguided" and should be "shown their
wrong path and be made to reject it."
His remarks came as religious leaders in the Muslim world,
who often do not comment on militant violence, joined in
denouncing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau for saying Allah
had told him to sell off the kidnapped girls as forced brides.
Jonathan on Thursday thanked countries including the United
States, Britain, France and China for their support in trying to
rescue the girls. All have offered assistance. International
police agency Interpol on Friday also offered its help.
British experts including diplomats, aid workers and
Ministry of Defence officials arrived in Nigeria on Friday to
advise the government on the search.
The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa Affairs
said it will hold a hearing next Thursday on U.S. offers of
assistance to Nigeria after the abductions.
The revolt has displaced more than 250,000 people in Nigeria
and 60,000 have fled the country, U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR)
spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on Friday. UNHCR is
"alarmed at the recent wave of attacks on civilians", he said.
A militant attack on the market town of Gamburu early on
Monday killed at least 125 people, police said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks and Chijioke Ohuocha in
Abuja, Lanre Ola in Maiduguri, Tom Miles in Geneva, Andrew
Callus in Paris, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, Patricia Zengerle in
Washington and Guy Faulconbridge in London; Editing by Janet