The United States government is coming under increasing pressure to designate Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), after Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) included an amendment to the 2012 defense budget requiring an audit of the group.
During his remarks to Congress introducing the amendment, Meehan added the Department of Justice is also lobbying for the group's inclusion on the FTO list.
"Six months ago, the Department of Justice reached out to the Department of State urging this determination," Meehan stated Thursday, adding his subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence issued a report on the quick "evolution" of the violence of the group from using machetes to improvised-explosive devices (IEDs).
"This is the same kind of conduct that was conducted by other terrorist organizations, and only later did the Department identify them as FTOs," Meehan added, tacitly referring to groups like Al-Qaeda, once thought only a local threat and therefore not designated under FTO status until much later.
"The amendment by Congress is a welcome development," a Heritage Foundation blog post read, echoing Meehan's statements. "For too long, the State Department has overlooked Boko Haram as a potential threat to U.S. interests. While Boko Haram does not currently pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, other organizations, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, were not immediately considered threats, either."
Formally known as the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad, the Nigeria-based group eschews man-made rules in favor of shari'a law and is famous for its attacks on Christian churches. The group is commonly referred to as their Hausa name, Boko Haram, which translates to "Western education is sacrilege/sin."
American citizens are blocked from providing "material support or resources," monetary or otherwise, to any group or member of a group designated an FTO. The groups members can also be forcibly removed from the U.S.
The Department of State, in response to any questions on FTO designations, perpetually makes a point of highlighting the fact that any group could be undergo an FTO audit at any time. Likewise, all FTO audits, past and present, are ongoing depending on current situations on the ground.
However, the Department of State has not yet given a clear reason why Boko Haram has not yet been designated an FTO, but in a statement to Congress on March 29, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson downplayed the international significance of the group, stating it was a mistake to "conflate" Boko Haram with Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, even though the two had dealings in the past.
Carson urged national action be taken against the group but added "attacks ascribed to members of this group have improved in sophistication and increased in number over the last few years, and we take the potential threat to American lives and interests very seriously."
Currently, the U.S. provides support to actions by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. This week, after an alleged member of Boko Haram called into a television station asking for talks with the government, Jonathan's ministers have swooped into action. On Wednesday, the president's office said they would be willing to talk.
Talks between U.S. and Nigerian officials are also slated to take place in the capital in June, during which a possible FTO designation will necessarily take place.
by RTT Staff Writer
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