Boko Haram Hiding in Vast, Snake-Ridden Forest

Sambisa Forest stretches for 23K square miles

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted May 7, 2014 5:19 PM CDT

(Newser) – Boko Haram has a tactical advantage: The Muslim extremist group suspected of kidnapping Nigerian girls is hiding out in old military bunkers, in an enormous forest where vegetation grows as high as six feet, Fox News reports. What's more, the 23,000-square-mile Sambisa Forest is teeming with poisonous snakes (two girls have apparently died of snakebites, and 20 are ill) and hosts varied wildlife including monkeys, antelopes, and lions, reports the Guardian. The wilderness was once a grazing grounds for elephants, whose thick skin could tolerate the thorny vegetation—but without cutlasses, it can be impenetrable to human visitors.

"It actually took the intelligence services a long time to discover that the game reserve had become a hideout for the sect," a source tells the Nation. Only after three years and the loss of "several lives" did services come around, but now agents "are not ready to risk their lives any more after all the frustration." National police offered a $300,000 reward today for information leading to the girls' rescue, and the US has sent a team to help, but the Guardian notes that even the use of tanks wouldn't give authorities a clear tactical advantage. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is said to be moving the girls at night, possibly to a second base outside the forest.

Map locates Sambisa Forest Reserve, Nigeria   (Associated Press)
This file image made available Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2012, taken from video posted by Boko Haram sympathizers, shows the leader of the radical Islamist sect Imam Abubakar Shekau.   (AP Photo/File)
In this photo taken Monday, May 5, 2014, Nana Shettima, the wife of Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima, center, weeps as she speaks with school girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and later escaped.   (AP Photo)
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