Reported to be in the offing this morning, the US Department of state has issued a formal media note that Boko Haram and Ansaru, both in Nigeria, have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). The media note describes Boko Haram as “a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al-Qa’ida 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” and Ansaru as “a Boko Haram splinter faction that earlier in 2013 kidnapped and executed seven international construction workers.”
When a group is designated as an FTO by the US government this includes a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with the group so designated, as well as a freezing of all property and interests in property of those organizations that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of US persons. The US Department of Justice and Department of Treasury assist in the enforcement of these actions. The US military has also been involved in work to build and expand the Nigerian military’s capabilities.
The media note also specifically points out that this action by the US is only “one tool” in policy that the Nigerian government must pursue, which the US believes should be conducted through “a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts, as well as military engagement.” Boko Haram is a radical islamist group in Nigeria that takes its name from its desire to ban western influence in education (the group’s name translates roughly to “books are forbidden”). In 2009, the group began a campaign of violence against a wide variety of targets from government institutions and schools to Christian churches to banks and markets.
The Nigerian authorities subsequently formed a specialized para-military unit to counter the group, called the Joint Task Force, which incorporated elements from the country’s law enforcement community and military. The Joint Task Force has since been accused of various rights violations in its campaign against Boko Haram. In May, the Nigerian military launched air strikes against Boko Haram camps in the north of the country, which was seen as a not insignificant escalation in the campaign.