Australia has tasked a top counter-terrorism official to offer Nigeria help as it faces growing pressure to find more than 250 schoolgirls abducted in the country’s north.
Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for kidnapping 276 students from their boarding school in northern Nigeria three weeks ago, and threatened to sell them into slavery.
The incident has sparked international outrage and calls for foreign governments to help, including in Australia where Labor is urging the Abbott Government to do everything it can to assist.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday directed her department’s head of counter-terrorism to contact the Nigerian High Commissioner to raise Australia’s concerns and offer support.
Ms Bishop condemned the group responsible for the abductions and promised Australia would stay in “close contact” with Nigeria regarding the abductions.
“Threats against the welfare of these girls by Boko Haram are appalling,” Ms Bishop said in a statement.
Shadow foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek urged the federal government to use Australia’s position on the UN Security Council to drive an effective international response.
Threats that girls as young as nine could be sold as slaves into marriage were horrific, she said.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said in a statement.
Australia is already working closely with Nigeria on counter-terrorism, in efforts designed to prevent bomb attacks like those that rocked the capital Abuja in recent days.
A bombing at a packed bus station killed 71 people last month, before another attack just days ago killed 19.
Boko Haram has been blamed for both attacks, which come as Abuja prepares to host the World Economic Forum on Africa from May 7.
Australians are advised to reconsider their need to travel to Nigeria due to the risk of terrorism and kidnapping.