Designate Boko Haram as Terrorists

The State Department should formally list the Nigerian al Qaeda confreres as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Reports in Nigeria last month claim that Boko Haram leader, Abubaker Shekau, recently placed on the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program, may have been killed. Shekau, however, released a video this month, boasting that he was still alive. The lesson learned: Boko Haram is not easily defeated. Recently, the group boldly declared itself strong enough to “comfortably confront the US.” Remarkably, the State Department has only designated individual leaders of Boko Haram as global terrorists, but has not designated that group to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Attitudes may be shifting, but the final steps have yet to be taken.

Boko Haram operates primarily in northern Nigeria. Established in 2002, it has become increasingly lethal, not only to Nigeria and its neighbors, but also to U.S. interests. It is believed to have established links with al Qaeda, and has cooperated with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (in North Africa) and al Shabaab (Somalia). The group’s then spokesman, Abu Qaqa, acknowledges, “Al Qaeda are our elder brothers. During the lesser Hajj [last August], our leader travelled to Saudi Arabia and met al Qaeda there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them, we ask them.”

Boko Haram’s immediate goal is to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government and establish a Sharia-based theocracy. To this end, some of its targets have been the institutional symbols of secular government, such as police stations. Over the course of its insurgency, Boko Haram has killed around four thousand people and injured thousands more, systematically targeting and massacring Christian worshippers and destroying their churches.

The group also maintains global objectives. They have attacked the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria and declared open hostility to America, Britain, Israel, and the “Crusader Christians” wherever they find them. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan warned in January that “Boko Haram, if it is not contained, will be a threat, not only to Nigeria but to West Africa, Central Africa and, of course, to North Africa”.

In July, a coalition of global security, human rights, and Nigerian-American organizations sent an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting the FTO designation. In January, Senator James Risch (R-ID) introduced the “Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2013,” stating that, “Boko Haram is clearly a foreign organization engaged in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. national security, thus meeting the threshold for designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It’s time for the State Department to step up and designate them as such.”

Risch, through this legislation, shined a light on a glaring gap in U.S. policy. The governments of Nigeria and Britain have already outlawed Boko Haram and its Ansaru affiliate as terrorist organizations. Yet the U.S. State Department has been reluctant to take the same steps. It's not as if Boko Haram fails to meet FTO criteria as defined by the U.S. State Department.