By not designating Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, the U.S. is choosing appeasement over moral clarity.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram group in Nigeria is, by any definition, a foreign terrorist organization. The Obama Administration is refusing to designate it as such, arguing that it is not a direct threat to the U.S. In other words, it is choosing appeasement over moral clarity.
Boko Haram is roughly translated to mean that Western education is sacrilegious. The Islamist group is openly committed to “war” against the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to create a “pure” Islamic country governed by Sharia law. Members often cite the Koranic verse, “anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among transgressors.”
The terrorist group was created in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim Borno State, located in northeastern Nigeria by an Islamist cleric named Muhammad Yusuf, who established a religious complex that consisted of a mosque and an Islamic school. It attracted poor Muslim families throughout Nigeria and in neighboring countries as well. His school quickly pushed a political agenda to “create an Islamic state” in Nigeria, and his complex became a recruiting ground for jihadists against the Nigerian government.
Yusuf was killed after a raid on his headquarters. Boko Haram was then taken over by Abubakar Shekau, who brought it in an even more radical direction. The group had previously attacked security personnel, government buildings and critics, but in 2010, Shekau had the group attack a prison in Bauchi State, freeing hundreds of Boko Haram supporters.
The group then attacked the United Nations building in Abuja, killing 23 and injuring 80 in one of the deadliest attacks in U.N. history. It set off multiple bombs on Christmas. Since August 2011, Boko Haram has planted bombs almost every single week, with churches being a favorite target. Nigeria has been called the most dangerous country in the world for a Christian to live in.
In January 2012, the group carried out its most deadly attack yet, killing more than 180 people in Nigeria’s largest city, Kano. In a video clip released shortly after the attack, Shekau said, “I enjoy killing anyone that Allah commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.” Since then, Boko Haram has attacked communication lines and burned down schools. Since 2009, the group has been linked to 3,600 deaths.
Boko Haram’s main spokesperson, Abu Qaqa, publicly said in January 2012 that Boko Haram is a “spiritual follower” of Al-Qaeda. The connection to Al-Qaeda goes far beyond just ideological similarities. The spokesman said, “al-Qaeda are our elder brothers … our leader traveled to Saudi Arabia and met al-Qaeda there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them, we ask.”
Boko Haram members have also been trained by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group is also linked to al-Shabaab in Somalia, both Al-Qaeda affiliates and both designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Just like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram considers its violent jihad to be a matter of religious obligation and will not compromise. Qaqa declared:
“We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to their knees … we will only put aside our arms—but we will not lay them down. You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside.”
Three senior Boko Haram operatives including Shekau were labeled as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” in June 2012, but the group as a whole is yet to be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. To be designated as such, a group must fit three criteria: It must be foreign, engaged in terrorist activity or retain the intent to engage in terrorist activity, and it must threaten the national security of the U.S. or its nationals.
Boko Haram’s qualification for this designation seems simple enough: It is located in Nigeria, carries out terrorist attacks and, as an Al-Qaeda-linked group, obviously threatens the U.S. and its nationals overseas. After all, if Boko Haram has no problem blowing up churches and killing Nigerian Muslims and kidnapping French families, it will have no qualms about killing an American.
The major reason that the U.S. has not designated Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is because it is viewed as only a regional threat. Last month, President Obama attributed the extremism of Boko Haram and other African terrorist groups to how “countries are not delivering for their people and where there sources of conflict and underlining frustrations that have not been adequately dealt with.”
In a major speech in May, President Obama emphasized that “Groups like AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.”
The president also said, “And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.”
By Shekau’s own words, Boko Haram threatens the U.S., its allies and its nationals. In November 2012, he declared, “O America, die with your fury” and pledged to fight “the Jews and the Crusader Christians.” As the Long War Journal summarizes, he “said he and his fighters support jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.”
Groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Chechen terrorists could just as easily be seen as regional threats. But, AQAP has inspired violence and advised terrorists who then attacked America. The Pakistani Taliban was behind the near-explosion of a car bomb in Times Square 2010. The Boston bombers likely had a foreign Chechen connection.
At the very least, it cannot be denied that groups like Boko Haram indoctrinate others into committing acts of violence. The threat isn’t from the group’s immediate aims; it’s from the ideology it spreads.
The U.S. stance on Boko Haram is weak, morally bankrupt and counter-productive.
While the U.S. fails to act, the U.K. announced today that it's formally recognized Boko Haram as the terrorist organization that it is.
Click here to sign Clarion Project's petition calling on the Obama administration to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Make a difference, sign now.
Ryan Mauro (left) is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.
Matt Carmel is an intern at the Clarion Project.