The U.S. named Nigerian groups Boko Haram and Ansaru as terrorist organizations, after an escalating campaign of attacks against civilians by militants with suspected links to al-Qaeda.
The groups “have been responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria,” Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The decision shows “our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north.”
President Goodluck Jonathan last week requested Nigerian Senate approval to extend emergency rule for another six months in three northeastern states of Africa’s largest oil producer. It’s part of a crackdown on Boko Haram Islamists who were taking over parts of the region, according to the government.
“We salute the U.S. government for partnering with the federal government,” Nigerian Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke was quoted by Lagos-based newspaper ThisDay as saying late yesterday. “This step will assist this nation to deal with these renegades.”
Attacks by Boko Haram include a 2011 suicide bombing at the United Nations building in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The State Department decision may raise the risk that U.S. interests in the country will be targeted.
The move “legitimizes the Nigerian government’s offensive in the northeast, which has resulted in quite a significant number of civilian casualties,” Thomas Hansen, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks in London, said in a phone interview. “Inside the Nigerian government, it will boost the hardliners in terms of how to deal with Boko Haram.”
The group has received both training and limited financial support from al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, according to a U.S. official who briefed reporters on the condition of not being identified. Ansaru is a splinter group of Boko Haram.
Yesterday’s action by the State Department follows the classification of three Boko Haram leaders as “specially designated global terrorists” in June 2012. The Nigerian government was consulted and supported the latest U.S. decision, according to a second U.S. official who spoke under the same rules as the first.
The new designation “is likely to encourage greater collaboration between Nigerian Islamist groups and Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the Sahel,” Murtala Touray, a senior Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk, said in e-mailed comments.
“Moreover, the U.S. government’s decision will raise the risk of targeted attacks on assets belonging to the U.S. and other foreign businesses and organizations operating in northern Nigeria,” Touray said.
Largely because of petroleum imports, Nigeria is the largest U.S. trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the State Department. Other U.S. imports include cocoa and rubber. The U.S. is also Nigeria’s largest foreign investor.
The terrorist designation establishes a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting to provide, material support for Boko Haram and Ansaru, and freezes any property in which the group may have an interest.
Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, started its violent campaign to impose Sharia law in Africa’s biggest oil producer following the death in 2009 of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf. Since then the group has killed thousands of people in gun and bomb attacks in the mainly Muslim north, and in Abuja.
Nigeria’s population of more than 160 million has more than 300 ethnic groups and is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.
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