US MAY DECLARE BOKO HARAM A TERRORIST GROUP
AMID an upsurge in terror attacks in Nigeria this past weekend , President Barack Obama and the United States (U.S.) government are keenly following the gradual emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a terrorist group in the process of aligning with al-Qaeda, according to a senior White House official.
Presidential Assistant John O. Brennan noted yesterday in Washington DC in a speech on the U.S. government’s Counterterrorism Strategy one year after the death of Osama bin Laden that it would be a mistake for the American government to think the threat from the organisation and its seeming affiliates like Boko Haram had passed.
One of the ways the U.S. is keeping its eye on the issue, according to him, is by monitoring similar groups around the world including Nigeria.
According to Brennan, the White House Assistant to President Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, “in Nigeria, we are monitoring closely the emergence of Boko Haram, a group that appears to be aligning itself with al-Qaeda’s violent agenda and is increasingly looking to attack Western interests in Nigeria in addition to Nigerian government targets.”
Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria alerted its citizens to a likely attack in Abuja, and last week, Thisday, The Sun newspapers offices were bombed in the Nigerian capital Abuja, with simultaneous attacks also in Kaduna.
Although the U.S. has condemned previous Boko Haram attacks in the country, the Obama administration has been reluctant to act on the recommendation of a U.S. Congressional panel to designate Boko Haram a terrorist group.
However, Brennan’s comments yesterday were seen as a reflection of that reluctance, but also a continuing process whereby the Obama administration was said to be considering and taking that option possibly in the future, according to sources.
Official sources added that recently the Obama administration officials and U.S. security agencies met with Vice President Namadi Sambo when he visited the U.S. earlier this month. That security meeting was said to have focused on U.S. Counterterrorism with special focus on the West Africa and Nigerian situation.
It is believed that the U.S. is under pressure by pro-Northern Nigerian lobbyists within the U.S. official circles who argue that the Boko Haram’s emergence was more of an economic and poverty issue, not requiring a terrorist designation.
According to Brennan, however, “In North and West Africa, another al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, continues its efforts to destabilise regional governments and engages in kidnapping of Western citizens for ransom activities designed to fund its terrorist agenda.”
It was also in that context that he included Nigeria, and described Boko Haram as a “ group that appears to be aligning itself with al-Qa’ida’s violent agenda.”
In the speech entitled: “The Ethics and Efficacy of the President’s Counterterrorism Strategy”, the U.S. Presidential Assistant noted that “the death of bin Laden was our most strategic blow yet against al-Qaeda.”
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Brennan added that “credit for that success belongs to the courageous forces who carried out that mission, at extraordinary risk to their lives; to the many intelligence professionals who pieced together the clues that led to bin Laden’s hideout; and to President Obama, who gave the order to go in.”
He said: “One year later, it’s appropriate to assess where we stand in this fight. We’ve always been clear that the end of bin Laden would neither mark the end of al-Qaeda, nor our resolve to destroy it. So along with allies and partners, we’ve been unrelenting. And when we assess the al-Qaeda of 2012, I think it is fair to say that, as a result of our efforts, the United States is more secure and the American people are safer.”
Nonetheless, the Presidential Assistant added that “it would be a mistake to believe this threat has passed. Al-Qaeda and its associated forces still have the intent to attack the United States. And we have seen lone individuals, including American citizens-often inspired by al-Qaeda’s murderous ideology-kill innocent Americans and seek to do us harm.”
But according to him, so damaged is al-Qaeda’s image that bin Laden even considered changing its name.
According to Brennan this was because as bin Laden said himself, U.S. officials “have largely stopped using the phrase ‘the war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims.”
He further disclosed that by simply calling them al-Qaeda, bin Laden said, “reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them.”