U.S. cannot confirm Nigerian claim to have located kidnapped girls

WASHINGTON Wed May 28, 2014 1:57am IST

A poster with the Twitter campaign hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is seen during a prayer vigil showing support for Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by militant group Boko Haram, outside the Nigerian Embassy in Madrid May 22, 2014. REUTERS/Susana Vera

A poster with the Twitter campaign hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is seen during a prayer vigil showing support for Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by militant group Boko Haram, outside the Nigerian Embassy in Madrid May 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Susana Vera

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it does not have information that would support Nigeria's claim that it knows the whereabouts of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, and U.S. and European officials voiced skepticism about the statement.

"We don't have independent information from the United States to support" that statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We, as a matter of policy and for the girls' safety and wellbeing, would not discuss publicly this sort of information regardless."

Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh said on Monday that the country's military knew the location of the schoolgirls, abducted by the Boko Haram Islamic militant group on April 14.

Five U.S. and European security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had no credible information on the location of girls and were skeptical that the Lagos government knows where they are.

The five officials said the United States and some European allies had provided technical intelligence, including information from spy aircraft and satellites, to Nigerian authorities, who lack such intelligence capabilities.

But the officials said that as far as they knew technical intelligence systems had not produced precise or credible information establishing the girls' location.

The five officials said that if the Nigerians had obtained such information from informants on the ground, it has not been shared with U.S. and allied agencies.

One impediment to finding the girls, the officials said, was that since their abduction seven weeks ago they had been divided into small groups. Boko Haram is also believed to be hiding them in densely forested terrain where it would be hard for modern technical intelligence systems to gather information.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

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