Over the past year Boko Haram has ratcheted up its bombings and gun battles in Nigeria. They have blown the United Nations headquarters in Abuja to smithereens; slaughtered more than a hundred church goers on Christmas day; successfully sent suicide bombers to kill policemen and destroy several of their stations; broke into prisons freeing their comrades. Yet, the United States government is still reluctant to officially call this jihadist sect terrorists.
Boko Haram has unapologetically claimed responsibility for all of the above acts, and many more. Some of their leaders have claimed ties with al-Qaeda. While some analysts doubt that. No one knowledgeable of Nigerian affairs would want to contend that Boko Haram could never acquire the knowledge to build bombs on their own, yet the tactics of multiple, simultaneous bombings, that has become a regular part of their repertoire in the past year, does parallel al-Qaeda’s MO.
The U.S. State Department has 49 groups on its roles of officially designated foreign terrorist organizations. Only one of those groups has its origins in sub-Saharan Africa, al-Shabab in Somalia. Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda recently produced a joint statement and video formally cementing their relationship. The United States has been involved in the battle against al-Shabaab through lending logistic and surveillance support to the Somalian transitional government and Kenya troops fighting in southern Somalia. Further, U.S. drones have dropped bombs on suspected al-Shabaab leaders homes and hideouts. Weather or not al-Shabaab being official labeled as a terrorist organization has given the U.S. the freedom to act against them is a matter of conjecture.
Boko Haram has been much more active than al-Shabaab in the past twelve months, yet the U.S. has not given any overt assistance to the Nigerian government to reign in these jihadists. Peter Lewis, director of African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington only goes as far as labeling Boko Haram a violent insurgency. He states that Boko Haram is a well organized and capable insurgency that has “a claim on the loyalties and ideas of only a tiny minority of northern Nigerians.” Terrorism In Africa News has heard many times from sources within Nigeria that Boko Haram has most of its loyalty in the north among the financial and political elite.
Dr. Jean Herskovits, of the State University of New York, said in an opinion piece in the New York Times, that placing Boko Haram on the U.S.’s official list of terrorist groups “would make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.” She could be correct in that Muslims may fear drone attacks from the U.S. like those that took place in Somalia.
Boko Haram has been successful in instilling fear in many Nigerians through ritual beheading of Christian preachers and threats against the non-Muslim southerners living in the north, President Goodluck, and all “infidels” in the country. The Nigerian security forces are so far ineffectual against the group and a mere U.S. designation that Boko Haram as a terrorist organization will not change that.
In my own opinion we do not need some formal definition, nor official U.S. designation, in order to call terrorists terrorists. An organization is a terrorist group when they commit and claim responsibility for acts of terror over and over again. That is why, here at Terrorism In Africa News, we refer to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Boko Haram as terrorist groups.