Why does the Obama administration refuse to call the jihadist group what it is?
Numerous petitions and efforts in Congress have not succeeded in pressuring the U.S. State Department to designate the northern Nigerian jihadists Boko Haram as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO). But on Thursday, July 25, a Washington, DC-based Northern Nigeria Task Force comprised of numerous Christian, human rights, global security, and Nigerian-American organizations1 released an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging once again the FTO designation for Boko Haram. The letter was accompanied by a 44-page brief, compiled by Jubilee Campaign and its Nigeria project, Just for Jos+, detailing the origins and history of the terrorist group along with a list of atrocities committed. The brief provides ample documentation for Kerry to create the necessary administrative record to determine that Boko Haram is well within the statutory criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization, if he should wish to do so.
The release of the letter followed a Capitol Hill briefing and press conference with the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. CAN represents some 80 million Christians, but northern Nigeria’s Christian population has suffered severe blows from Boko Haram and other Nigerian jihadists. Pastor Oritsejafor gave a name and a story to the massive suffering of the Christians of northern Nigeria. He spoke about receiving text messages “every week” about a church being burned or a pastor killed or church members targeted in the streets. With pain in his voice, Oritsejafor told how the Secretary of CAN for Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, Rev. Faye Pama Musa, was dragged out of his house and shot to death in front of his daughter who had been pleading for his life.
Stories of these human lives snuffed out, of men and women of God martyred for their faith, of tiny children-casualties of jihad have not seemed to move the State Department to action against these terrorists. The fact that the U.S. Congress, and even the Department of Justice, has urged FTO designation has not changed the foreign policy of Foggy Bottom. The Nigerian government officially identified Boko Haram as a terrorist organization on June 4, 2013, and on July 8, the British government began the process of adding Boko Haram to its list of foreign and domestic terrorist organizations. But although the Obama Administration has offered a bounty for Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau, they have not followed suit, so in the July 25 letter to Secretary, the Northern Nigeria Task Force reminded Secretary Kerry that the “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ('AEDPA'), 8 U.S.C. §1189 (amended 2004)” empowers him to designate any entity as a foreign terrorist organization if it meets the necessary criteria of “engaging in terrorist activity” and that such terrorist activity “threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States.”
The task force’s letter states that Boko Haram’s “200+ body count in the January 20, 2012 massacre topped the charts as the highest single death toll in any conflict worldwide exceeding Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan and was tied only with Syria.” And according to The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START) 2012 report, “Boko Haram was the second most deadly terrorist group for the year 2012 ranking only behind the Taliban – and ahead of Al Qaeda.” While reading the task force’s letter, before he even needs to open the attached brief, Kerry would discover that since 2011, Boko Haram has killed nationals of 15 countries: Kenya, Norway, Nigeria, Italy, Germany, China, Cameroun, the United Kingdom, Mali, France, India, Ghana, South Korea, Lebanon, and Syria.
The brief to Secretary Kerry includes a quotation from Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau on the group’s desire to spread Sharia beyond the borders of Nigeria that counters the State Department’s premise that it is poverty and marginalization that motivate Boko Haram. A direct transcription from a video of Shekau preaching declares:
For this fact, where ever you are, you should know that it is not an ethnic war, it is not an ignorant war, it is not a war for money, it is not a war for any other reason. No, it is a religious war! This war is not meant to end in either a day, a week, or a year, but the end of this war is when we are all dead, the whole of us, and none of us is left to continue the war or it is the religion that will dictate what is to be done and this may decipher the end of the war…This is a war against Muslims and infidels. Yes! And we are ever ready to face any one that will take any step against us, be it individuals, group of persons or government or whoever may be, because we know those we aim at in this war. Therefore, we are warning every Muslim that adherents of Islam under no grounds should help any infidel in this war. If, by any chance, any Muslim helps any infidel in this war he should know that he is a dead person, yes!
The brief states that Boko Haram “fully developed into an international terrorist threat on August 26, 2011, when it targeted its first international victims and sent a suicide bomber to drive a vehicle through two security barriers into the United Nations headquarters in Abuja killing 23 people and wounding over 115.” UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO, UNODC and UNDP all lost staff members in the bombing, which occurred just after Boko Haram members returned from training at terrorist camps in Somalia.
The list of atrocities committed by Boko Haram goes on and on, but the task force brief also makes a point of documenting the jihadists’ international connections with other terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, AQIM, and Al-Shabaab. It also has received weapons from international terrorists. In May 2013, the brief reveals, “soldiers in Kano discovered a hidden arms cache that authorities stated belonged to three Lebanese men.” It continued, “Nigerian military spokesman Captain Ikedichi Iweha said ‘All those arrested have confessed to have undergone Hezbollah terrorist training.” The weapons, which had been packed into small coolers and concealed under several layers of concrete, included eleven anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank landmines, twenty one rocket-propelled grenades, more than 11,000 bullets and an amount of dynamite. The Nigerian Army indicated that attacks had been planned on American and Israeli targets in Nigeria by Boko Haram’s Hezbollah associates. Similar caches have come in from Libya and from northern Mali.
Time will tell if the Northern Nigeria Task Force’s letter and brief will have any effect upon changing the State Department’s policy on Boko Haram. State’s reluctance to designate as terrorists a group that has declared it will eradicate the Christian population in the north of Nigeria, along with State’s demand that the Nigerian government share power with the same “marginalized” northern Nigerian Islamists that have declared that they will eventually impose Sharia law on the entire nation (and beyond), is part of the same crazy quilt of U.S. foreign policy seen across the Middle East and Africa (and beyond) in which the only motif appears to be deference to Islam. Considering Boko Haram leader Shekau’s threat in 2010 in praise of Al Qaeda: “Do not think jihad is over. Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury,” it would not seem as if Boko Haram is impressed with U.S. deference.
1 Organizations that signed the July 25, 2013 letter to Secretary of State Kerry: ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM, ADVOCATES INTERNATIONAL, ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICS IN AFRICA, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE, CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN-AMERICANS, THE FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL, THE IGBO LEAGUE, THE INSTITUTE ON RELIGION AND DEMOCRACY, JUBILEE CAMPAIGN, JUSTICE FOR JOS PLUS, & WESTMINSTER INSTITUTE
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