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US names Nigeria’s Boko Haram a terror organisation

© Image: AFP/ screengrab of Boko Haram video.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-13

The US State Department has officially designated Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group responsible for the 2011 bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja, as a “foreign terrorist organisation”, the White House said on Wednesday.

The US State Department formally designated the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram as a "foreign terrorist organisation” on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.

The designation is significant because it directs US law enforcement and regulatory agencies to block business and financial transactions with Boko Haram, which is fighting to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria and has ties to al Qaeda. Boko Haram means “Western education is sacrilege”.

The move makes it a crime under US law to provide "material support" to the group.

Boko Haram and other splinter Islamist groups, including Ansaru, which the US also designated as a terrorist organisation on Wednesday, are seen as the biggest security threat in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and top oil exporter.

‘Fight against terrorism’

The groups are responsible for the deaths of thousands in northeast and central Nigeria. In one of  Boko Haram’s most recent attacks, fighters dressed as soldiers shot and hacked to death 19 motorists after blocking a highway in the northeast of the country. In August 2011, the group bombed the UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, killing 24 people.

“By cutting these terrorist organisations off from US financial institutions, and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north,” said Lisa Monaco, US President Barack Obama’s top homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, in the official statement.

“We encourage Nigeria to pursue a comprehensive counter-terrorism approach that uses law-enforcement tools effectively, creates economic opportunity, and ensures that human rights are protected and respected,” she said.

In May this year Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan expanded a military campaign against the group and last month he said his forces had killed 74 of the suspected militants in an air assault.

‘UN attack turning point’

Although the State Department had previously designated three alleged Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, it stopped short of a more sweeping declaration against the organisation.

For two years, US Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who convened his own hearing on the issue, and Representative Peter King of New York, also a Republican, have pressed the State Department to put Boko Haram on its list of terrorist groups alongside the likes of al Qaeda and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

They warned that the 2011 attack on the UN building in Abuja marked a turning point as a threat to US interests. Meehan has noted that the United States did not perceive al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a threat to US interests until after the attempted downing of an airliner by a Nigerian near Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-11-13

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