The abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram could be a turning point in the battle against Islamist militants, Nigeria’s leader has said.
“I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria,” President Goodluck Jonathan said.
In his speech, he also thanked China, the US, the UK and France for their offers of help to rescue the girls.
Their kidnapping three weeks ago has caused outrage worldwide.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, began its insurgency in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno state in 2009.
At least 1,200 people are estimated to have died in the violence and security crackdown this year alone.
The schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school on the night of 14 April from the town of Chibok in Borno state.
In a video released earlier this week, Boko Haram’s leader threatened to “sell” the students, saying they should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a shooting by Taliban insurgents, has said the world must not stay silent over the abduction.
She told the BBC that “if we remain silent then this will spread, this will happen more and more and more”.
Safe schools initiative
President Jonathan was addressing delegates at the World Economic Forum for Africa in the capital, Abuja, which has recently been hit by two attacks blamed on Boko Haram.
He thanked them for attending “especially at this time that as a nation we are facing attacks of terrorists” and said their presence was a “major blow for the terrorists”.
“If you had refused to come because of fear, the terrorists would have jubilated.”
The president said China had promised to assist in the search for the girls – and he also thanked the US, UK and France who have despatched teams of experts to Nigeria.
France on Thursday announced it would station about 3,000 troops in Nigeria’s neighbours, to help tackle Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a UN education envoy, announced a “safe schools initiative” at the event in Abuja on Wednesday.
He said the Nigerian business community would donate $10m (£5,8m) to provide security for around 500 schools as part of a pilot project, without giving further details.
In the face of recent criticism over its handling of the abductions, the government has defended its response to Boko Haram’s insurgency, saying it was “fighting a war”.
“We have to limit and manage collateral damages – but the insurgents do not care,” presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe told the BBC’s Newsday programme.
“They can kill soldiers, they can kill villagers, but we cannot do that. And people must understand that, we have to fight this war within the rules of engagement that is accepted internationally.”
He confirmed that suspected Islamist insurgents attacked the town of Gamboru Ngala, near Cameroon’s border, on Monday, massacring civilians during a busy market day.
He said the official death toll was between 100 and 150; residents and the area’s MP have said more than 300 residents died during the five-hour attack.