Apr 2, 2016 at 03:30 o\clock

Nigerian parents say 234 schoolgirls kidnapped by extremists

CHIBOK, Nigeria - Some 234 girls are missing from the northeast Nigerian school attacked last week by Islamic extremists, significantly more than the 85 reported by education officials, parents told the state governor Monday.

The higher figure came out a week after the kidnappings when the Borno state governor insisted a military escort take him to the town. Parents told the governor that officials - - would not - - listen to them when they drew up their list of names of missing children and the total reached 234.

The discrepancy in the figures could - - not immediately be resolved.

Security officials had warned Gov. Kashim Shettima that it was too dangerous for him to drive to Chibok, 80 miles from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and birthplace of the Boko Haram terrorist network blamed for the abductions.

Borno state education commission Musa Inuwo Kubo and the principal of the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School had initially said that 129 science students were at the school to write a physics exam when the abductors struck, after midnight on April 14. Twenty-eight pupils escaped from their captors between Tuesday and Friday. Then another 16 were found to be day scholars who had returned to their homes in Chibok before the attack. That left 85 missing students, according to school officials.

This latest confusion comes after the military had reported last week that all but eight of those abducted had been rescued - but then retracted the claim the following day.

Security sources have said they are in "hot pursuit" of the abductors, but so far they have not rescued any of the girls and young women, aged between 16 and 18.

Parents and other town residents have joined the search for the students in the Sambisa Forest which borders Chibok town and is a known hideout for the militants.

The kidnappings are believed to have been carried out by Nigeria's Islamic extremist rebels, known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram - the nickname means "Western education is sinful - is violently campaigning to establish an Islamic Shariah state in Nigeria, whose 170 million people are about half Muslim and half Christian. Boko Haram has been abducting some girls and young women in attacks on schools, villages and towns but last week's mass kidnapping is unprecedented. The extremists use the young women as porters, cooks and sex slaves, according to Nigerian officials.

Boko Haram was on a rampage last week, staging four attacks in three days that began with a massive explosion during rush hour at a busy bus station Monday morning in Abuja, the capital in the center of the country, which killed at least 75 people and wounded 141.

Nigeria's military and government had claimed to have the militants on the run and contained in a remote northeast corner on the border with Cameroon.

But extremist - Nigerian - attacks have increased in frequency and become ever deadlier this year with more than 1,500 people killed so far, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.

nigeria-bus-blast.jpgBystanders react as victims of a bomb blast arrive at the Asokoro General Hospital in Abuja, April 14, 2014. A morning rush-hour bomb killed at least 75 people at a Nigerian bus station near the capital on Monday, raising concerns about the spread of an Islamist insurgency after the first such attack on Abuja for two years. Suspicion fell on Boko Haram, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Islamist group mainly active in the northeast.

REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Apr 1, 2016 at 13:42 o\clock

Secret Service Counters Nigerian Scams

Nigerian-based confidence scammers are bilking American businesses and everyday citizens at such alarming rates that the U.S. Secret Service has set - - up shop in the oil-rich African nation to help stop rip-offs and other criminal activity at their source.

Advance fee fraud or 4-1-9 scams, after an old Nigerian criminal code for theft under false pretenses, have been around for at least a decade.

U.S. officials estimate Americans lose at least $100 million a year to these scam artists. Thats equivalent to what the United States has spent combating wildfires this year, what George W. Bush so far has received in campaign donations for his presidential run, and, as it turns out, roughly what the U.S. government will send to Nigeria in foreign aid this year.

The means for pulling these lucrative cons can be relatively low-tech. The perpetrators send out mass mailings to entice potential victims, by mail, fax and e-mail, with the expectation that a percentage of recipients will bite. In a typical swindle, a criminal will elicit payment from a victim, purportedly some type of government fee or tax, with the promise of a much bigger payoff down the road.

Small businesses, charity organizations, churches, elderly people with retirement funds basically anyone suspected to have a pot of cash are targeted.

The Secret Service, under its mandate to protect U.S. currency and financial institutions, has since 1995 been working with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Nigerian and other foreign authorities to try to counter the operations, which range from the crude to quite sophisticated.

Last month, the bureau opened up an office in Lagos, Nigerias largest city. Theyre sharing information, technical expertise and some resources to help Nigerian authorities battle advanced fee fraud and other Nigerian criminal activity, such as money laundering and counterfeiting.

How it Works

The scam generally works like this:

A criminal posing as a government official or national oil company executive sends a letter to the victim proposing a deal to transfer money purportedly Nigerian government contract overpayments to the victims bank account in the United States in exchange for a cut of the money.

If the victim agrees, the criminal or an associate, just before the expected big payoff, says a fee or bribe of some sort must be paid to make it happen, usually several thousand dollars typically a fraction of the promised million-dollar payoff. The victim is encouraged either to bring the money to Nigeria or to hire a Nigerian attorney to make the last-minute arrangements.

After the victim pays the fraudulent fee, usually by wiring a bank transfer, the perpetrators ask for more fees. The victim is faced with the prospect of either losing the original fee payment or paying even more fees, hoping for the big payoff.

In this way, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars may be swindled from a victim. The payoff, of course, never comes, because there never was any payoff to begin with.

They may sound like old 1920s flimflams, but they still work, says Jim Caldwell, a supervisor in the Secret Services financial crimes division.

Sophisticated Grifters

Indeed, just like in the 1973 hit movie The Sting, the 4-1-9ers go to great lengths to make their phony operation seem believable.

Letters are written on official-looking Nigerian government letterhead, faxes sent from places like London, money transferred to legitimate-sounding - Nigeria - places like Hong Kong. The scam operators dress up and play the part of government or military officials in face-to-face encounters. Computers often are used to forge documents.

In one recent instance, a scam letter was written on stationary appearing to be from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Some of these guys can really put a fairly convincing letter or fax together, says a Commerce official.

Nigeria is a former British colony, and many of the scammers speak and write English, so these rip-offs commonly target people in English-speaking countries. Elaborate laundering operations funnel the money around the world to buy goods for sale back in Nigeria. In many cases, accomplices in the United States and other countries help the perpetrators, officials say.

The Nigerian government has blamed the rise in scams on the countrys problems of decades-long mass unemployment, extended family networks, the age-old thirst for a quick buck, and the greed of foreigners.

Throwing Good Money After Bad

The scammers are so good, some victims are strung along for months and spend thousands of dollars, unwilling to believe theyve been taken.

Its like being a gambler, who throws good money after bad the deeper you get in the more reluctance you have to back out, says Caldwell. Its not unusual that we have seen victims lose more than $1 million.

Once people get hooked, my experience is they become more and more resistant to accepting that its a scam, because they become vested - - in the deal, says a Commerce official. Its almost like denial, they dont want to believe that its not true.

Many times a family member or friend of a victim will ask authorities for help. When the bureau receives the information, they try to talk the person out of becoming victimized or subjecting themselves to further victimization.

Weve done that quite a bit, where weve talked people off a ledge, so to speak, and got them to come around and believe theyre victims, Caldwell says.

Weve gone so far in the past to actually pull people off airplanes, he says. Weve gotten to these people and pulled them out of potentially either harmful or certainly cash sensitive situations and gotten them out. Were really quite proud of that.

But, he adds, Clearly some people never ever come to the realization that theyve been a victim to a fraud, and think that one more payment and their windfall is going to happen.

Nigerian Scam Chronicles

The 4-1-9 scams come in a number of varieties. An Oregon man named Brian Wizard in July published a book about his experiences with Nigerian scammers, in which they worked a bizarre 4-1-9 variant called, Black Currency Scam.

In his book, Nigerian 419 Scam, Game Over!,Wizard describes how Nigerian cons proposed he pay $8,000 to help them buy special chemicals to clean a suitcase supposedly full of illicit U.S. $100 bills, and another $2 million in a vault.

Meeting in a hotel bar in London, the Nigerians told him each bill had a smudge on its face that would prevent detection by a scanning device as it passed through U.S. Customs.

They just tell you their story about why they need your money, says Wizard. They needed to buy the chemicals, and they just happened to be out.

Wizard says he spent $4,000 total to play along with four different scams.Now he hopes to recoup his losses with the book. Altogether, he says he was promised $32 billion.

For souvenirs, he has a swath of forged and faxed documents. They include a certificate of ownership for $25 million in a security vault in Benin, various diplomatic papers signed, stamped and approved, and a get out of jail card that says the money he would be getting was free of money laundering - - or drug money.

Im thinking, cool, wallpaper, he says.

A rare, more sinister variant seen primarily in Europe is the Threat Scam. Victims are sent notifications of assassination from letter writers purporting to be from an international security service that has received information that the letters recipient is about to be kidnapped and murdered.

How do you get these mystery murderers off your back? Pay thousands to the security service, and theyll take care of it.

There is no evidence the threats have ever been carried out, says a State Department publication.

Spreading the Word

Many victims who realize theyve been taken never report their losses to the authorities out of embarrassment or fear theyve violated some U.S. law, officials say.

U.S. authorities have published materials encouraging people to report suspected advanced fee fraud scams so they can target the criminals and try to prevent others from being taken. The U.S. Department of Commerce has a hotline available for discussing possible scams.

We get on average at least one call a day from a U.S. company, trying to find out whether these things are legitimate or not, says the Commerce official. About 90 percent of the time we determine that it is not legitimate.

If its unsolicited, and large amounts of money are connected to it, and its a confusing letter, its almost certainly a scam, he says.

Which is not to say that 90 percent of all offers coming out of Nigeria are not legitimate, says Edward Casselle, Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa.

Most Nigerian companies are honest and legitimate entities, but unfortunately, a small number of scam artists operating out of Nigeria tarnish the countrys image as a place to do international business, says Casselle.

To help U.S. companies avoid the bad apples, the Commerce Department also offers U.S. companies a market-research service called International Company Profile, which checks the bona fides of Nigerian individuals or companies or deals.

I would like to think that were having an impact on this, in the education - - arena. But on the other hand, were not seeing any decline in it, in terms of victims, says Caldwell.

For counseling about possible 4-1-9 scams, call the Nigerian desk officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce at (202) 482-5149.

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Mar 30, 2016 at 22:22 o\clock

Severe water stress likely in Asia by 2050, study finds

Severe water stress likely in Asia by 2050, study finds

waterCredit: George Hodan/public domain

Economic and population growth on top of climate change could lead to serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by the year 2050, a newly published study by MIT scientists has found.

The study deploys detailed modeling to produce what the researchers believe is a full range of scenarios involving water availability and use in the future. In the paper, the scientists conclude there is a "high risk of severe water stress" in much of an area that is home to roughly half the world's population.

Having run a large number of simulations of future scenarios, the researchers find that the median amounts of projected growth and climate change in the next 35 years in Asia would lead to about 1 billion more people becoming "water-stressed" compared to today.

And while climate change is expected to have serious effects on the water supply in many parts of the world, the study underscores the extent to which industrial expansion and population growth may by themselves exacerbate water-access problems.

"It's not just a climate change issue," says Adam Schlosser, a senior research scientist and deputy director at MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a co-author of the study. "We simply cannot ignore that economic and population growth in society can have a very strong influence on our demand for resources and how we manage them. And climate, on top of that, can lead to substantial magnifications to those stresses."

The paper, "Projections of Water Stress Based on an Ensemble of Socioeconomic Growth and Climate Change Scenarios: A Case Study in Asia," is being published today in the journal PLOS One. The lead author is Charles Fant, a researcher at the Joint Program. The other co-authors are Schlosser; Xiang Gao and Kenneth Strzepek, who are also researchers at the Joint Program; and John Reilly, a co-director of the Joint Program who is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Teasing out human and environmental factors

To conduct the study, the scientists built upon an existing model developed previously at MIT, the Integrated Global Systems Model (IGSM), which contains probabilistic projections of population growth, economic expansion, climate, and carbon emissions from human activity. They then linked the IGSM model to detailed models of water use for a large portion of Asia encompassing China, India, and many smaller nations.

The scientists then ran an extensive series of repeated projections using varying conditions. In what they call the "Just Growth" scenario, they held climate conditions constant and evaluated - - the effects of economic and population growth on the water supply. In an alternate "Just Climate" scenario, the scientists held growth constant and evaluated climate-change effects alone. And in a "Climate and Growth" scenario, they studied the impact of rising economic activity, growing populations, and climate change.

Approaching it this way gave the researchers a "unique ability to tease out the human [economic] and environmental" factors leading to water shortages and to assess their relative significance, Schlosser says.

This kind of modeling also allowed the group to assess some of the particular factors that affect the different countries in the region to varying extents.

"For China, it looks like industrial growth [has the greatest impact] as people get wealthier," says Fant. "In India, population growth has a huge effect. It varies by region."

The researchers also emphasize that evaluating the future of any area's water supply is not as simple as adding the effects - - of economic growth and climate change, and it depends on the networked water supply into and out of that area. The model uses a network of water basins, and as Schlosser notes, "What happens upstream affects downstream basins." If climate change lowers the amount of rainfall near upstream basins while the population grows everywhere, then basins farther away from the initial water shortage would be affected more acutely.

Future research directions

The research team is continuing to work on related projects, including one on the effects of mitigation on water shortages. While those studies are not finished, the researchers say that changing water-use practices can have significant effects.

"We are assessing the extent to which climate mitigation and adaptation practices--such as more efficient irrigation technologies--can reduce the future risk of nations under high water stress," Schlosser says. "Our preliminary findings indicate strong cases for effective actions and measures to reduce risk."

The researchers say they will continue to look at ways of fine-tuning their modeling in order to refine their likelihood estimates of significant water shortages in the future.

"The emphasis in this work was to consider the whole range of - Nigerian - plausible outcomes," Schlosser says. "We consider this an important step in our ability to identify the sources of changing risk and large-scale solutions to risk reduction."

Explore further:Climate change may increase risk of water shortages in hundreds of US counties by 2050

Journal reference:PLoS ONEsearch and more infowebsite

Provided by:Massachusetts Institute of Technologysearch and more infowebsite

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Jan 17, 2016 at 16:33 o\clock

Explosion rocks shopping mall in Nigeria's capital

ABUJA, Nigeria - An explosion blamed on Islamic extremists rocked a shopping mall in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, and police said 21 people were killed.

The blast came as Nigerians were preparing to watch their country's Super Eagles play Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil. Many shops at the mall have TV screens but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.

Witnesses said body parts were scattered around the exit to Emab Plaza, in Abuja's upscale Wuse 2 suburb. One witness said he thought the bomb was dropped at the entrance to the mall by a motorcyclist. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


A man with bloodstains on his shirt stands at the scene of a blast in the Wuse 2 neighborhood in Abuja, June 25, 2014.


Soldiers shot and killed one suspect as he tried to escape on a power bike and police detained a second suspect, Mike Omeri, the government spokesman for the insurgency, said in a statement.

Billows of black smoke could be seen from a mile away, and police said 17 vehicles were burned in the blast.

"I heard the explosion and (felt) the building shaking," said Shuaibu Baba, who had a narrow escape. He said he rushed downstairs to find that the driver who had dropped him a few minutes earlier was dead. "I asked the driver to come with me, and he said 'No,' he would wait for me in the car."

Police Superintendent Frank Mba said 17 people were wounded and 21 bodies were recovered.

Omeri urged people to be calm and said the government was doing everything possible "to check the activities of insurgents."

It is the latest in a series of violent attacks blamed on Islamic extremists. Nigerian security forces appear incapable of curtailing the near-daily attacks concentrated in the northeast, where Boko Haram extremists have their stronghold.

On Tuesday night, extremists in the northeast attacked a military checkpoint and killed at least 21 soldiers and five civilians, witnesses and a hospital worker said Wednesday.

A soldier who escaped said the militants also abducted several of his colleagues in the attack near Damboa village, 53 miles from Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

The extremists attacked in a convoy of more than 30 trucks armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers and powerful submachine guns while the soldiers had only AK-47 assault rifles, said the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

He said he saw at least 16 of his colleagues gunned down before he ran away. A worker at Maiduguri's main hospital said he counted the corpses of 21 soldiers brought to the morgue.

A federal intelligence officer also confirmed the attack, saying the soldiers were overrun. He also is not allowed to speak to reporters.

A spokesman for vigilante groups fighting Boko Haram, Muhammed Gava, said the extremists also killed five elderly men in the village that has been deserted by most inhabitants.

Abuja is in the center of Nigeria and the militants have spread their attacks to the capital. Two separate explosions in Abuja in April killed more than 120 people and wounded about 200 at a busy bus station. Both were claimed by Boko Haram, which has threatened further attacks.

A bomb at a medical college in northern Kano killed at least eight people on Monday. Last week, at least 14 died in a bomb blast at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, a state capital in the northeast. In May, twin car bombs in the central city of Jos left more than 130 people dead; and a car bomb at a bus station killed 24 people in the Christian quarter of Kano, a Muslim city.

Boko Haram attracted international condemnation for the April mass abductions of more than 200 schoolgirls, and is blamed for this week's abductions of another 91 people - 31 boys and 60 girls and women with toddlers as young as 3.

Nigeria's military and government claim to be winning the war in the 5-year-old insurgency but the tempo and deadliness of attacks has increased this year, killing more than 2,000 people so far compared to an estimated 3,600 killed over the past four years.

Omeri, the government spokesman, said security agencies are "handling the situation" at Wednesday's bombing.

He said that "every step is being taken by the government to check the activities of insurgents in the country and advised Nigerians to remain vigilant and conscious of movement of unidentified people."

Boko Haram wants to install an Islamic state in Nigeria, a West African nation whose 170 million people are almost equally divided between Muslims who are dominant in the north and Christians in the south.

2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Jan 17, 2016 at 12:31 o\clock

At least 54 people killed in bomb blasts in Nigeria's Maiduguri | Energy & Oil | Reuters

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Sept 21 (Reuters) - At least 54 peoplewere killed and 90 wounded in a multiple bomb attack in thenortheastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Sunday evening, apolice spokesman said on Monday.

"A suspected Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated IEDs(improvised explosive devices) at a mosque in Ajilari and someinsurgents also threw IEDs at a viewing centre. Total casualtyfigure is now 54," Victor Isuku, a police spokesman inMaiduguri, said.

A Nigerian army spokesman said on Sunday that three bombshad gone off. (Reporting By Lanre Ola, Writing by Julia Payne; Editing byAngus MacSwan)

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