The US State Department has added three leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram group in Nigeria to the list of Specially Designated Global terrorists. Today’s designations mark the first time that members of the Nigerian terror group have been officially recognized as a threat to the United States. The group itself has not been added to State’s list of terror organizations.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, was designated a global terrorist, 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,” according to the State Department press release. 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,” according to State.
“Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous
attacks in northern Nigeria, its primary area of operation,” the press release said. “In the last 18 months, Boko Haram or associated militants have killed more than 1,000 people” in attacks on churches, the military and police, government facilities, and other targets.
“Boko Haram’s victims have been overwhelmingly civilian,” State continued.
Boko Haram has conducted numerous terror attacks in Nigeria since the group began waging a low-level insurgency against the Nigerian government three 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.
Earlier this year, 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 launched suicide attacks on Christian churches in northern Nigeria during the last three Sundays [see Threat Matrix report, Boko Haram suicide bombers target Nigerian churches].
The Nigerian terror group has carried out at least 12 suicide attacks this year. The targets have included churches, newspapers, government officials, and security forces. The terror group also conducted several other suicide attacks in previous years; the most high-profile suicide attack targeted the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in August 2011.
Boko Haram has also expanded its propaganda efforts to show solidarity with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In July 2010, Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, issued an online statement praising al Qaeda and offered 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.”
Documents seized at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan 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 Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.