The State Department announced today that Boko Haram, a prolific terrorist and insurgency group based in Nigeria, has been added to the U.S. government’s list of designated terrorist entities. Ansaru, a Boko Haram “splinter” group, was also added to the designation list. Boko Haram has targeted civilians, the Nigerian government, Western interests, and the U.N. In the process, the group has killed thousands of Muslims and Christians, often in suicide bombings.
Although Boko Haram is quite obviously a terrorist organization, nearly two dozen academics have advocated against the State Department’s designation. In a May 21, 2012, letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the academics recognized Boko Haram’s “horrific violence,” but argued that the designation would do more harm than good. They claimed, for instance, that the designation “would internationalize Boko Haram’s standing and enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere.”
This and related arguments were apparently taken seriously by U.S. officials despite the fact that Boko Haram’s jihadi reputation had already risen dramatically. Boko Haram’s leaders have not hidden their affinity for al Qaeda. And there is ample evidence that Boko Haram has been operating within al Qaeda’s sphere of influence.
Documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani safe house reportedly show that the al Qaeda master was in contact with the Nigerian group. Nearly one year after bin Laden was killed, and before the academics’ letter was published, the Washington Post reported that the al Qaeda CEO “was in touch not only with al Qaeda’s established affiliates but also with upstarts being groomed for new alliances,” including Boko Haram.
Likewise, the Guardian (UK) reported that bin Laden’s files show contacts between the Nigerian group and al Qaeda’s senior leaders.
In early May 2012, the Obama administration released a tiny subset – just 17 documents and a handful of videos – out of the massive cache of documents and files recovered in bin Laden’s lair. As THE WEEKLY STANDARD has previously reported, hundreds of thousands of documents and files were recovered during the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The documents dealing with al Qaeda’s ties to Boko Haram were not included in the administration’s release, however.
Even absent the release of more of bin Laden’s files, Boko Haram’s place within the al Qaeda network is well-established. While not a formal al Qaeda affiliate, Boko Haram has strong ties to known al Qaeda actors and organizations.
The U.S. government has offered a $7 million reward for information leading to the capture of Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. In its reward notice, the U.S. government recognized the ties between Boko Haram and three established al Qaeda affiliates. There “are reported communications, training, and weapons links between Boko Haram, al Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Shabaab, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which may strengthen Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks.”
Among the justifications for today’s designation, the State Department cited Boko Haram’s “links” to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). When it designated three Boko Haram leaders last year, the State Department similarly noted that they have “have close links to” AQIM. Indeed, Boko Haram has fought alongside AQIM and allied groups in Mali.