Boko Haram emir Abubakar Shekau, from a propaganda tape.
The US State Department has added the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram and its splinter faction known as Ansaru to the lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities. The designations took place almost one and a half years after Boko Haram’s leader was added to the list of specially designated global terrorists.
Announcing today’s designations, State described Boko Haram as “a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians.”
Ansaru, also known as Ansar al-Muslimeen in the Land of Black Africans (Bilad al-Sudan), is described as “a Boko Haram splinter faction” that has “focused on Nigerian military and Western targets.” In its most high-profile attack on the Nigerian military, Ansaru ambushed a convoy of Nigerian troops in Kogi state on Jan. 20, saying it was to stop African countries from joining the intervention against al Qaeda-affiliated Islamists groups operating in Mali. The Nigerian troops were preparing to deploy to Mali to fight the al Qaeda-linked groups.
Ansaru has also “conducted several kidnappings of foreigners living or working in Nigeria,” according to State. In March, Ansaru executed seven foreigners who worked at a construction company. Ansaru claimed the execution was carried out in response to a joint Nigerian and British military operation to free them [see LWJ report, Nigerian jihadist group executes 7 foreigners].
Abu Usama al Ansari, Ansaru’s emir, announced the formation of the terror group in June 2012. In the announcement, al Ansari said that one of Ansaru’s main goals is “restoring the dignity of the Muslims as it was in the time of the Caliphate,” according to the statement, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“The method of achieving these aims and goals is “jihad,” al Ansari said.
Boko Haram added to list 17 months after its leader was designated
The US government added Boko Haram to its list of terror groups 17 months after placing Abubakar Shekau, the emir of the Nigerian jihadist outfit, and two other operatives on the list of global terrorists. In June 2012, the US State Department added Shekau, along with Khalid al Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kamba, both of whom “have ties to Boko Haram and have close links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” State said at the time. The three Boko Haram leaders pose “a significant risk of conducting acts of terrorism and threaten the security of US nationals or national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States,” State said in the 2012 designations.
Boko Haram has conducted numerous terror attacks in Nigeria since the group began waging a low-level insurgency against the Nigerian government four years ago. Major clashes between the two broke out in northern Nigeria during the summer of 2009. Police killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, and Mohammad Yusuf, the leader, was captured and then executed. Shekau continued to attack the state and demand that sharia, or Islamic law, be imposed in the country.
The Nigerian terror group has carried multiple suicide attacks since its founding. The targets have included churches, newspapers, government officials, and security forces. The most high-profile suicide attack targeted the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in August 2011.
In early 2012, Boko Haram stated that it seeks “to eradicate Christians” from areas in Nigeria. The group has intentionally targeted Christians at churches, especially on religious holidays and on Sundays during worship services.
Boko Haram has also expanded its propaganda efforts to show solidarity with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In July 2010, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau issued an online statement praising al Qaeda and offering condolences to al Qaeda of Iraq for its loss of Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi. He also threatened the United States.
“Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”
In December 2012, Shekau praised al Qaeda and said he and his fighters support the global jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.
Documents seized at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 showed that top-level Boko Haram leaders have been in touch with al Qaeda, according to The Guardian. Boko Haram is known to receive support from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and from Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa.
In August 2013, it was reported that Boko Haram was among a number of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that participated in a series of communications with the top leadership of al Qaeda, which included Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, al Qaeda’s general manager.