UK

Nigeria abducted schoolgirls: RAF plane sets off

Sentinel takes off from RAF Waddington on Sunday morning Image copyright MOD
Image caption The RAF Sentinel R1 will operate from Accra, Ghana

An RAF spy plane has left the UK to help search for 223 schoolgirls abducted by extremists in Nigeria.

The Sentinel R1 plane, which has a crew of five, took off from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, at 09:25 BST on Sunday, the Ministry of Defence said.

Boko Haram Islamic militants took the schoolgirls, who include Christians and Muslims, on 14 April in north-eastern Nigeria, where the group is based.

African leaders meeting in Paris have declared "war" on the group.

'Moving targets'

The MoD said the "state-of-the-art surveillance jet" would operate from Accra, Ghana, and would join US aircraft in attempting to locate the girls.

It said the aircraft was "capable of flying for significant periods of time at high altitude" and was fitted with a "dual mode radar", which could "locate moving targets and offer radar imagery".

British military teams have already been embedded with the Nigerian army and are also working with US experts to analyse information on the girls' location.

RAF Waddington station commander Gp Capt Rich Barrow said he was "delighted" to help Nigeria in its efforts "to find the girls and get them back with their families where they belong".

"The Sentinel with its wide area search capability and long endurance is perfect for this task," he said.

"UK personnel will help to analyse the information gathered to improve the intelligence picture for the Nigerian authorities."

Negotiations 'out'

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he was pleased British armed forces were playing their part in the search operation following the "reprehensible" kidnappings.

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Media captionUK Foreign Secretary William Hague says Nigeria must work with its neighbours to tackle Boko Haram

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande, who hosted a summit of African leaders in France, said they had pledged to share intelligence and co-ordinate action against Boko Haram.

Attendee UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said before the meeting that regional powers needed to co-operate better when it came to cross-border intelligence.

Boko Haram released a video earlier this week showing more than 100 of the girls and offering an exchange for prisoners.

The country's President Goodluck Jonathan has ruled out negotiations over their possible release, Nigerian officials say.