New Long Island coalition joins campaign against Nigerian kidnappings

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Several Long Island religious leaders and community activists announced the formation Saturday of a coalition in response to the more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by militants in April.

"It is very important for us Long Islanders to rise up," said Pastor Laolu Akande, a Nigerian who lives in West Babylon.

Akande stood with representatives of the new group, the Long Island Bring Back Our Girls Coalition, at a news conference outside Hollywood Baptist Church in Amityville. The group plans to hold a rally Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Amityville Long Island Rail Road station.

The coalition is among a growing chorus of Long Island voices that have joined the international campaign for the return of the girls, who were snatched by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

"We are standing in support of these girls, we are standing against Boko Haram, and we want these girls to be rescued and released," Akande said.

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The Rev. Andy Lewter of Hollywood Baptist said the coalition has representatives from about 10 Long Island churches.

Akande, pastor at Jesus Friends Assembly, is also executive director of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, both in Bay Shore. He said the association was formed in 2012 because of ongoing terrorism in Nigeria, which he says has targeted Christians. He said he hopes the international attention and action toward Nigeria since the abductions will be a strong blow to terrorism there.

Boko Haram, which means "western education is a sin" in the Hausa language, has conducted a violent campaign since 2009 to impose Islamic law in Nigeria. The conflict has killed more than 4,000 people -- including an attack killing 29 Saturday -- and forced almost half a million to flee their homes, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Patricia Maher of East Meadow, who is challenging Rep. Peter King in the 2nd Congressional District, is part of the new coalition. "I want to see all means taken to bring the girls back," Maher said.

-- With AP

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