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100 days since schoolgirls’ abduction, what explains Boko Haram’s expanding reach?

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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, we return to a story that captivated the world’s attention for a time, but has faded from the public eye, the fate of those kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has this update on what has become of them and of the campaign to bring them home.

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MARGARET WARNER: A small, but vocal protest marked the somber anniversary in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. It’s been 100 days since nearly 300 young schoolgirls were abducted by Islamist militants from a town in northeastern Nigeria, Chibok.

HADIZA BALA USMAN, Campaign Coordinator, “Bring Back Our Girls”: We call on to the Nigerian government, we call on to the Nigerian military to facilitate a decisive rescue operation.

MARGARET WARNER: No one is sure of the exact number being held today, many seen here in a video from mid-May. Nearly 60 escaped their captors, a strict fundamentalist Islamist group called Boko Haram, its leader, Abubakar Shekau.

ABUBAKAR SHEKAU, Boko Haram (through translator): We are against Western education, and I say stop Western education. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.

MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, for the first time since the April 14 abductions, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan met with many parents of the kidnapped girls and some who escaped. He and his government have come under withering criticism for their handling of the incident and of Boko Haram.

SARAH MARGON, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch: The government was wildly slow to respond to this particular abduction, and the government’s security forces have been wildly ineffective at both dealing with Boko Haram and protecting the local population.

MARGARET WARNER: Sarah Margon is the Washington Director of Human Rights Watch.

After 100 days, why hasn’t the Nigerian government been able to locate and rescue these missing girls?

SARAH MARGON: It’s our understanding that they actually do know where they are, but because the girls have been broken up into smaller groups, and it’s basically a hostage negotiation, it’s a very dangerous situation.

MARGARET WARNER: This morning by phone, I asked Nigerian government spokesman in Abuja Mike Omeri about that.

MIKE OMERI, Nigerian Government Spokesman: The effort, the energy, the resources, the mobilizing and standing together is towards rescuing these girls. So, repeatedly, officers and ground forces and security services have indicated knowledge of where, knowledge of where these girls might be held.

MARGARET WARNER: But we were told that you know where they are, but it is too risky to try to rescue them, because it’s basically a hostage situation. Is that right? 

MIKE OMERI: Well, this is an asymmetrical war. And the idea here, the efforts, the objective, the goal is to ensure that the girls are rescued alive and well.

MARGARET WARNER: The kidnappings inspired a global campaign, #bringbackourgirls, which raised awareness, but in a video released last week, Boko Haram chief Shekau brazenly mocked the effort, while taunting the president and his military.

ABUBAKAR SHEKAU: Bring back our girls?  Bring back our army. Bring back our army. Jonathan. Jonathan. Girl, girl, girl, girl, girl. Bring back our army.

MARGARET WARNER: The kidnappings are but a symptom of the government’s impotence, as Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamist caliphate in Nigeria, is advancing across the mainly Muslim northeast of Africa’s most populous nation.

Late last week, its fighters planted their flag in the strategic town of Damboa. And today, it’s believed to be behind bomb blasts in the city of Kaduna. At least 39 were killed, a toll expected to rise. Some of the dead were followers of a Muslim cleric who doesn’t embrace Boko Haram’s hard-line ideology.

All of this is emblematic, says Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council, of an organization that has grown in strength and ambition.

J. PETER PHAM, Director, Africa Center, Atlantic Council: Well, the group has metastasized very rapidly in the last two to three years. It’s gone from a violent militant group that did drive-by shootings and lobbed grenades at people it didn’t like to a terrorist group that carried out the first suicide bombings and truck bombings in Nigeria’s history, to now, in the last 12 months, to a group that occupies territory.

MARGARET WARNER: So what explains its ability to expand its area of control?

J. PETER PHAM: I think several factors contribute to it.

One is better training, increasingly, also, the weakness of the Nigerian military. The Nigerian military has been unable or unwilling to fight back. And then, finally, the fear that Boko Haram has managed to stoke in villagers and others leads people to flee before them, rather than putting up resistance.

MARGARET WARNER: And says, Sarah Margon, where the military has fought back, it has done as much to create fertile ground for Boko Haram as deny it.

SARAH MARGON: In part, they have been emboldened by the heavy hand of Nigeria’s security forces. In part, the local community has been pushed towards them because of the heavy hand. And so they have been strengthened. The heavy hand includes extrajudicial killings, rounding up suspects, arresting them, not charging them, sometimes killing them, burning residential structures, looting homes, abusing people.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re saying that the government’s action and the military’s action have actually helped Boko Haram?

SARAH MARGON: Absolutely.

MARGARET WARNER: While government spokesman Omeri says there was initial resentment of the army by local populations, he refutes the charge of abuse.

MIKE OMERI: I wouldn’t admit that, because the armed forces of Nigeria, the constitution and government, has zero tolerance for mistreatment. And wherever any element or act of abuse is noticed, it will be thoroughly investigated and dealt with appropriately.

MARGARET WARNER: But Peter Pham says such assurances fall on deaf ears among many Nigerians, who’ve grown cynical after decades of corruption and economic disparity in this oil-rich country.

J. PETER PHAM: Boko Haram wouldn’t be in the strong position that it is and have the sympathies or at least the tacit acquiescence of considerable segments of the population were it not for the social, political, and economic marginalization that many Nigerians feel, not only because of corruption, but also for lack of inclusion.

MARGARET WARNER: This has bred a regional threat potent enough to prompt the U.S. to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization, and the United Nations to enforce sanctions against it as an al-Qaida-associated group.

Boko Haram’s expanding reach is a threat the U.S. should be worried about, says Pham.

J. PETER PHAM: Boko Haram forms part of an archipelago of extremist groups stretching from North Africa through the ungoverned spaces of the Sahel, and then onward and eastward to unstable areas of East Africa, as well as a linkage to some of the militants fighting in Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: Another reason that the U.S. hopes the Nigerian government, even while trying to get back the kidnapped girls, also presses on every front against the surging threat Boko Haram represents.

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‘There are no safe places’ for children in Gaza, UNICEF officer says

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GWEN IFILL: Pernille Ironside of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, has been on the ground in Gaza since the conflict began. I spoke with her via Skype earlier today.

Pernille Ironside, as you travel around in Gaza, tell us, what are you seeing?

PERNILLE IRONSIDE, UNICEF: Well, the conflict has been getting steadily worse by the day, and we’re now into our 15th day here.

And with each one, the civilian casualty rate has only mounted. Amongst those, children are bearing the greatest brunt of this terrible conflict at the moment. There’s over 168 children who have died already. And we’re now over 1,100 children who have been seriously injured, maimed and even terribly burned.

The physical and psychological toll that this is having on people is — it’s truly — it’s almost indescribable. I have met with, for example, the three surviving Bakr boys who, one moment, they were on the beach playing with their cousins and the next moment, they saw pieces of four of their friends and cousins strewn around them.

These are lasting emotional and physical scars that children are bearing across Gaza Strip. I also met 4-year-old Shima in the hospital the other day. And she was longing for her mother and her siblings, all of whom died as they were seeking shelter, leaving their home in search of a safer place, and only Shima and her father survived.

The fact of the matter is, there is no safe place here. Even in the public schools and compounds and UNRWA shelters, there are no guarantees for safety.

GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s actually what I wanted to ask you, which is, where do people go when they go seeking shelter?

PERNILLE IRONSIDE: Well, they’re gathering around the main emergency hospital in Gaza, al-Shifa. They’re gathering in mosques, in the orthodox church here in Gaza.

And they’re also gathering in school compounds, both U.N. schools and now, as those have basically reached their capacity with over 120,000 people in them, people are also pouring into public school compounds.

I visited two of these public schools today just to see how people were coping. The vast majority of nearly 1,400 people in each compound were children. I would say about 70 percent. In one alone, I checked. There were 152 children were under the age of 2.

This is an enormous civilian impact and upheaval in terms of all these lives who have literally had to flee, not knowing if they’re going to survive or not. In fact, one grandmother today said to me, 40 of them, all they could do was pray at that moment because they didn’t know — as their five-story building came crashing down around them, they didn’t know if they would live.

GWEN IFILL: What is the condition of the infrastructure, whether it’s water, electricity, even the roofs over people’s heads?  What is your sense of how damaged that all is?

PERNILLE IRONSIDE: I have been visiting a number of the most critical water and sanitation installations around Gaza.

I can say that 70 percent of the population is now without access to safe water. The main sewage pumping station has been hit directly. And 40 percent of Gaza’s sewage is flowing directly into the Mediterranean now. Just down the road from there the primary sewage treatment plant was also directly hit. And the sewage flowed down the street into the neighborhoods and fields, contaminating a huge amount of area.

Water wells have been directly hit. There is at least 50 percent of all of the water and sanitation infrastructure is no longer functioning at this moment. And even when some urgent repairs could be made to reestablish some of the connections, it’s been rendered impossible, because there is no safe humanitarian access for the municipal workers to be able to make these repairs.

And, already, three of them have been killed while on duty. Beyond water and hygiene, the emotional toll — and so we have the emergency psychosocial teams who are reaching out to all the families who have lost loved ones in order to provide them with some immediate coping skills. And this is really just the first step of a very long process of healing and recovery that Gaza is going to need to undergo.

GWEN IFILL: It sounds like a long process in every possible case.

Pernille Ironside, the Gaza field office of UNICEF, thank you very much.

PERNILLE IRONSIDE: Thank you.

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Kerry resumes attempts to broker Mideast cease-fire, both sides mourn losses

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GWEN IFILL: The fighting between Hamas and Israel continued today, as America’s top diplomat shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, attempting to broker a cease-fire. More than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have now been killed since the fighting began July 8.

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv, his Air Force jet exempt from the FAA ban shutting down U.S. flights there. He met first with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and suggested there’s been some progress toward a cease-fire.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We’re working hard. And I’m not going to get into the characterizing, but we have certainly made some steps forward.

GWEN IFILL: From there, he headed to the West Bank, and talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

JOHN KERRY: We’re doing this for one simple reason. The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence. And this needs to end for everybody.

GWEN IFILL: And then back to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Amid all the shuttling — even Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Netanyahu by phone today — hundreds of Palestinians were also on the move, pouring out of the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis. They were fleeing heavy Israeli air and artillery strikes, and there were reports of many people still trapped.

WOMAN (through interpreter): They were firing from tanks next to our house. We were stuck in the house. We called the ambulance and the firefighters. None came to help us.

GWEN IFILL: In Rafah, hundreds took part in a funeral procession for five Palestinians killed by overnight airstrikes.

And, in Jerusalem, thousands attended the funeral of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg. The 24-year-old man from California was killed in fighting on Sunday. Violence also spread to the West Bank, where a Palestinian man was killed in fighting with Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, Hamas rocket fire killed a foreign worker near Ashkelon in Southern Israel. The rocket threat prompted more airlines to call off flights into Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

President Shimon Peres urged them to reconsider.

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES, Israel: May I say I regret that airlines have suspended flights. The real answer to the danger of flying is not to stop the flights, but to stop the rockets which are endangering the flight.

GWEN IFILL: But the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, held both sides responsible for the rapidly rising death toll.

NAVI PILLAY, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: I unequivocally reiterate to all actors in this conflict that civilians must not be targeted. Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

GWEN IFILL: Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni answered the allegation with two words on her Facebook page: “Get lost.”

Late today, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for the world to force an end to the Israeli offensive and to the economic blockade of Gaza.

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News Wrap: First MH17 crash victims are returned to the Netherlands

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JUDY WOODRUFF: The first of the victims from the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine arrived back in the Netherlands today. Life in the grieving nation largely came to a halt, as the day’s somber events played out.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has our report.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: At Eindhoven military airport this afternoon, two aircraft, one Dutch and one Australian, ferried the first of MH17′s passengers and crew back to the country which lost the most; 193 of the 298 were Dutch, 32 Australian, and 10 from the U.K., 40 hearses for 40 coffins.

And before they were taken away for forensic investigation, the Dutch gave the bodies a hero’s welcome, with the sounding of the last post. The country’s new king, Willem-Alexander, and Queen Maxima, led a day of national mourning, the ceremony here meticulous in bright sunshine, and performed in front of about 1,000 relatives of the dead.

And what was most striking, the determination to give them a dignity in death that they never received in the fields of Eastern Ukraine. At the crash site itself, separatist rebels gave access to officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but not to Dutch investigators, who said their safety wasn’t guaranteed.

The plane’s flight recorders have been taken to the U.K. for an examination which could take weeks. But six days on, there has been no professional investigation permitted here. On Monday, the U.K. said it had imposed an absolute arms embargo on Russia. But, today, it emerged that more than 200 export licenses, including for missile launching equipment, are still in place.

DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: We have an arms embargo in place. We set out the terms of it, and we need to make sure that everything that’s happened since is consistent with the terms of that embargo. I believe that’s the case, but we will want to go through each one of these individually to very much make sure that it is the case. And if it isn’t, of course, we will act very swiftly.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And amid disagreement among world leaders as to how to respond, pro-Russian separatists are continuing to shoot down aircraft. Today, it was two Ukrainian military jets, this just 25 miles from the MH17 site, the Ukrainians claiming the rockets were fired from Russia itself.

On the other side of Europe, though, the peeling of bells, and then a minute’s silence. Not a corner of the Netherlands has been untouched by this disaster. And the scenes this evening have been unprecedented, many thousands lining the streets to watch the hearses pass by, the first bodies from 11 nations in all, though none of them have yet been identified, yet all of them honored here by the country which less than one fateful week ago had sent them on their way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: European monitors said today there are body parts still at the site in Eastern Ukraine where the plane was shot down. And Australia’s prime minister warned it’s increasingly likely that some of the remains will never be recovered.

GWEN IFILL: And in other news today, in Taiwan, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in stormy weather as it was trying to land on the small island of Penghu. At least 47 people were trapped and feared dead. Rescue workers used flashlights to comb through the wreckage in the darkness; 58 passengers and crew members were on board.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans and Democrats in Congress offered up competing bills today on the flood of migrant children across the southern U.S. border. But there was no sign that either side can win over the other. House Republicans said their bill could cost $1.5 billion, far less than President Obama’s request of $3.7 billion.

Speaker John Boehner:

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: What the president is asking for is a blank check. He wants us to just throw more money at the problem without doing anything to solve the problem. The administration ought to get their act together. Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in a position to give the president any more money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans also insist on speeding up deportations by changing a 2008 law that lays out a lengthy hearing process. In the Senate, Democrat Barbara Mikulski proposed legislation to cut the president’s funding request by $1 billion. But it wouldn’t change the 2008 law on deportations.

Homeland Security Department officials warn the border and immigration agencies will run out of money in the next two months unless Congress acts.

GWEN IFILL: Lawmakers in Iraq have again delayed voting on a new president. They agreed today to put off a decision until tomorrow, after the Kurdish political bloc asked for more time. At least 95 candidates are running. Meanwhile, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an overnight suicide bombing that killed 31 people at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Indonesia, a former general who lost the presidential election now plans to challenge the results in the nation’s highest court. His campaign alleges widespread fraud in the voting, although election observers have said that it was generally free and fair. Election officials declared Jakarta governor Joko Widodo the winner yesterday.

GWEN IFILL: The Costa Concordia cruise liner began its final voyage today, more than two years after it capsized off an Italian island. Two tugboats pulled the ship away from the port of Giglio. It will make a slow four-day journey to the northwestern port of Genoa, home to the company that owns the vessel.

FRANCO PORCELLACCHIA, Technical Team Leader, Costa Crociere: It is difficult to describe the feeling without being too emotional. The ship is heading north at a speed of two knots. Having reached the speed in such a short time, I’m confident that the expected arrival time in Genoa falling between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

GWEN IFILL: And 32 people died when the Concordia steered too close to land and struck a reef. The captain is now on trial on charges of causing the wreck and abandoning his passengers and for multiple counts of manslaughter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, General Motors has issued six more safety recalls covering another 700,000 vehicles. This time, the problems range from faulty seats to turn signal failures, to problems with power steering. All told, GM has issued a record 60 recalls this year, for nearly 30 million cars and trucks.

GWEN IFILL: Congressional investigators told House members today how they repeatedly qualified for subsidized health coverage using fake I.D.s. The Government Accountability Office said investigators succeed in 11 out of 18 attempts; they said they got around an online identity checking system by dialing government call centers instead.

Also today, a study by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated more than 10 million adults have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The anthrax incident at a government lab has now cost the lab director his job. Michael Farrell submitted his resignation today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He’d already been reassigned from a CDC facility in Atlanta that handles bioterrorism agents. Last month, that lab accidentally sent anthrax samples that were still alive to two other labs. Dozens of CDC workers were potentially exposed, but no one got sick.

GWEN IFILL: Wall Street had a mixed day after some mixed reports on corporate earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 27 points to close at 17,086. The Nasdaq rose 17 points to close at 4,473. And the S&P 500 added three to end at 1,987.

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