JOS, Nigeria -- Islamic militants killed 48 villagers in northeastern Nigeria near the town where they kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls, and the United States said Wednesday that it was sending in 80 military personnel to expand its drone search for the captives.
The developments came hours after twin car bombings claimed at least 130 lives in this central city, Jos -- an escalating campaign of violence blamed on the Boko Haram terrorist network and its drive to impose an Islamic state on Nigeria. The three villages attacked overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday are near the town of Chibok, where the girls were abducted from their boarding school in a brazen April 15 assault that has ignited a global movement to secure their freedom.
First lady Michelle Obama is among those who have joined a viral social media campaign promoting a rescue, tweeting earlier this month, "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #BringBackOurGirls."
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States was sending in 80 military personnel to help in the search. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and to the Senate, Mr. Obama said the service members were being sent to Chad, which borders northeastern Nigeria, to help with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft missions over Nigeria and the nearby region.
The U.S. mission will help expand drone searches of the region, said Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, adding that this latest deployment will not be involved in ground searches.
The drone -- a Predator -- will be in addition to the unarmed Global Hawks already being used, a senior U.S. official said. The new flights will be based out of Chad and allow the military to expand its search effort, said the official.
The government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has come under intense national and international criticism for its lack of progress in rescuing the 276 schoolgirls. Besides the United States, Britain, Israel and several other nations have offered assistance in the hunt for the girls, amid fears that they would be sold into slavery, married off to fighters or worse, following repeated threats by Boko Haram's leader.
The insurgents have demanded the release of detained Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls -- a swap officials say the government will not consider.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful," has targeted schools, as well as churches, mosques, marketplaces, bus terminals and other spots where large numbers of civilians gather in its violent five-year campaign to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, whose 170 million people are half Christians and half Muslims.
During the latest attack on three northeastern villages, terrified residents said they hid in the bush and watched while Boko Haram fighters set their thatched-roof mud homes ablaze.
In Jos, site of two powerful car bombings Tuesday in a crowded bus terminal and market, rescue workers with body bags combed the rubble for more bodies, as scores of residents gathered at mortuaries and hospitals seeking missing loved ones. Officials reported an additional 12 deaths from the blasts: Seven mutilated bodies were recovered from the scene, and five of the wounded died in the hospital.
Most victims were women and children who worked in the market as vendors, said Mohammed Abdulsalam of the National Emergency Management Agency.
Jos was tense with fears that the attack could inflame religious rivalry in the city, which sits on a volatile fault line dividing Nigeria's mainly Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south and has been a flash point for such violence in the past.