The Terror Behind the Hashtag: Kidnapped Girls Warn World About Boko Haram

"We are working with the Nigerian government to strengthen its criminal justice system and increase confidence in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable," Carney said. "You know, there are other things, I'm sure, specifics that the State Department can provide to you, but this is an outrage and a tragedy, and we are doing what we can to assist the Nigerian government to support its efforts to find and free the young women who were abducted."

At a press availability Thursday in Addis Ababa, Secretary of State John Kerry said "we will also continue to provide counterterrorism assistance to help Nigerian authorities to develop a comprehensive approach to combat Boko Haram, while at the same time respecting civilians and respecting human rights."

"Let me be clear. The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice," Kerry said Saturday on a visit to Gullele Botanic Park in Ethiopia. "I will tell you, my friends, I have seen this scourge of terror across the planet, and so have you. They don't offer anything except violence. They don't offer a healthcare plan, they don't offer schools. They don't tell you how to build a nation, they don't talk about how they will provide jobs. They just tell people, 'You have to behave the way we tell you to,' and they will punish you if you don't. Our responsibility and the world’s responsibility is to stand up against that kind of nihilism."

The State Department's annual report on international terrorism, released last week, notes that Boko Haram "maintained a high operational tempo" last year, and "has also increasingly crossed Nigerian borders to evade pressure and conduct operations."

"The number and sophistication of BH’s attacks are concerning, and while the group focuses principally on local Nigerian issues and actors, there continue to be reports that it has financial and training links with other violent extremists in the Sahel region."

The Nigerian terrorist organization didn't get much more of a mention in the report, though, except for a key reference to the group's funding from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

At a November House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield admitted that the U.S. doesn't know much about Boko Haram's membership -- anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand, they estimate -- and tried to downplay the religious extremist element of the group's attacks.

“Boko Haram’s activities call our attention not just to violence, but also to poverty and inequality in Nigeria,” she said, adding that the U.S. government is “concerned by reports that some Nigerian security forces have committed gross human rights violations in response to Boko Haram.”

“As they have killed Christians in the name of Islam, they’ve also killed Muslims in the name of Islam,” Thomas-Greenfield added. “While they do have a religious bent to what they do, they are non-discriminating in their attacks on people.”

Justice Department sources told multiple media organizations last week and this week that Attorney General Eric Holder had ordered an intelligence assessment of Boko Haram, in addition to offering FBI help to the Nigerian government in the case of the missing girls. The Obama administration only classified the group as a terrorist organization in November, despite years of attacks since its 2002 founding.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, called it "inexcusable" that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took nearly three weeks to commit to bringing the schoolgirls home.

“The world has heard the anguish of the Nigerian people, including mothers from across the country, responding to this horrific event. The U.S. stands ready to assist the Nigerian government in locating the girls and the perpetrators, and has offered to do everything possible to bring them home. President Jonathan should accept this assistance immediately, and apply a degree of urgency to this search with the help of U.S. experts," Coons said in a statement Monday. "It is incumbent on the Nigerian government to respond in an effective manner to ongoing acts of terror within its borders."

Coons added that it's taken "far too long for the Nigerian government to effectively combat the threat presented by Boko Haram."

"Thousands of people have been killed in increasingly sophisticated attacks on civilians, government, and police installations over the last three years," the senator added. "…These abductions are just the latest atrocity committed by Boko Haram."