On June 3, 2013, the U.S. Department of State made the surprising and welcome announcement that its “Rewards for Justice” program is offering a bounty on information leading to the capture of key leaders of terrorist organizations in West Africa. The top reward, up to $7 million, is for Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram. Boko Haram is the brutal Jihadist group working to eradicate the Christian presence in northern Nigeria and impose Sharia law on the whole nation.
It is commendable (did I mention surprising?) that the State Department is taking this step to capture Shekau and other Islamist terrorists. Bounty for Yahya Abu el Hammam, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader, and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Signed-in-Blood Battalion leader, is up to $5 million each. Information leading to the location of Malik Abou Abdelkarim, another AQIM leader, and Oumar Ould Hamaha, spokesperson for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) will net an informer up to $3 million for each. The State Department has prioritized the capture of Boko Haram leader Shekau. But why not target the entire organization?
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence have deep concerns about Boko Haram. They have urged State to designate it a Foreign Terrorist Organization (F.T.O.) so that it can be more closely monitored, and the U.S. can be more helpful to the Nigerian government in trying to dismantle this Islamist menace. But the State Department does not see Boko Haram the same way.
The State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism’s annual report stated that “The militant sect ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,’ better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (BH), conducted killings, bombings, kidnappings, and other attacks in Nigeria, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries, and the widespread destruction of property in 2012.” Noting that “attackers killed Nigerian government and security officials, Muslim and Christian clerics, journalists, and civilians,” the terrorism report calls “on the Nigerian government to employ a comprehensive security strategy that is not predicated on the use of force.” Nigeria should also address “the economic and political exclusion of vulnerable communities in the north,” chides the report.
Even while reporting on terrorism by the “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teaching and jihad,” the State Department appears blind to why Boko Haram does what it does. “This is a Jihad not inspired by pecuniary or unequal motives but one that is driven by fanatical and dogmatic religious ideology of doing away with Christianity in Nigeria,” says Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The Counterterrorism Office is correct that Nigeria should address the vulnerable communities in the north that have suffered from economic and political marginalization, but that is not Boko Haram! It is the Christians in northern Nigeria who are most neglected and poverty-stricken – all the more so now, as family breadwinners have been slaughtered, hospital bills must be paid, and homes, churches, and businesses have been burned to the ground by Boko Haram.
Western media is no better. On May 31, 2013, The Washington Post reported that Nigerian Islamist militants who had traveled to northern Mali last year for training had now returned to northern Nigeria, laden “with sophisticated weapons and tactics learned on the battlefields.” The article mentions assaults on mosques and the killing of over 3000 people since 2009, but has a breathtakingly complete lack of mention of Christians, churches, or religious persecution.
Christians are Boko Haram’s most frequent targets. Leader Shekau’s declaration that he has no more compunction about killing ‘anyone that God commands’ him to kill than he would to killing a chicken reflects the whole group. Boko Haram declared an ultimatum to Christians in January 2012 ordering them to leave the north or face attacks. Over 300 people died that month as the Jihadists attempted to fulfill their threat. According to data compiled by Jubilee Campaign USA from reports on the ground, between 2010 and 2013, Boko Haram initiated attacks against Christians 297 times. In 2012 alone, the jihadist group killed 1,726 people and injured 613 more. So far in 2013 Boko Haram has killed 785 people and injured 182 more.
The killing and destruction continue today in spite of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s efforts to crack down on the militants, declaring a state of emergency in three northern states on May 14. CAN released a statement on May 30 giving examples of ongoing persecution such as the murder the previous week of a pastor and church member shot dead by gunmen, a Muslim security guard who “was mistaken for a Christian and shot dead,” and a church burned down by Boko Haram on May 26. CAN President Oritsejafor revealed that “the military operations were yet to effectively secure Christians and their churches,” and urged “the military to redouble their efforts to restore normalcy in the affected states and other parts of the north, where fundamentalists have continued to kill Christians.”
These efforts have been criticized sharply by Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials. On May 30, Townhall columnist Armstrong Williams lamented that during Kerry’s first official trip to sub-Saharan last week, “he had the opportunity to publicly bolster a key U.S. ally.” Instead, said Williams, “he singled out Nigeria for criticism at the very time the country is engaged in a pitched battle to defend itself against radical Islamic terrorists who have pledged to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic state.” Williams advises that “public chiding is not what Nigeria needs. It doesn’t help Nigeria in its fight and ultimately does not best serve American interests.” He explains that President Jonathan’s state of emergency is necessary for Nigeria “to retain its grip on three northern states, preventing Boko Haram from solidifying its grip on the region.”
Like Williams and other advocates for religious freedom and human rights in northern Nigeria, Oritsejafor urged “friends of Nigeria, to join forces with the Federal Government in this struggle to save Christians from being exterminated.” CAN’s U.S. partner, the Christian Association of Nigerian Americans (CANAN) has also issued a plea to the Obama Administration. “Is President Obama not aware that they are cutting the throats of innocent Nigerians who are simply practicing their faith?” they demanded. Nice of CANAN to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, but offering a reward for Abubakar Shekau has not cured the State Department’s willful blindness towards Nigeria’s Islamist jihad.
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