The State Department announced Wednesday that it had designated Nigeria's Boko Haram and a splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations. U.S. officials say the groups have ties to al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, better known as AQIM, and are responsible for "thousands of deaths" throughout Nigeria in recent years.
The State Department said Boko Haram carried out indiscriminate attacks in Nigeria’s Benisheikh in September, killing more than 160 civilians, including women and children.
Boko Haram has also conducted attacks against international targets, including a suicide bombing that killed 21 people at the UN building in Abuja in 2011. Many of the dead were aid workers supporting development projects across Nigeria, the statement added.
The Boko Haram spinoff group Ansaru was behind the abduction and execution of seven international construction workers earlier this year, the statement said.
"These designations are an important and appropriate step, but only one tool in what must be a comprehensive approach by the Nigerian government to counter these groups through a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts," the State Department statement said.
Two senior U.S. officials who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity Wednesday didn't offer details of the Nigerian militants' alleged ties to AQIM, saying only that the groups had received al Qaida training and limited financing.
The officials also didn't explain the timing of the designation, but said that it had followed "an extensive process of review." Boko Haram leaders previously were designated individually by the United States. The Nigerian government declared the group a terrorist organization last year, the officials said. The U.S. official also said that the Nigerian government had been told in advance of the designation and was "on board" with the decision.
Here's an excerpt from the backgrounder by the U.S. officials:
The consequences of these designations include an asset freeze against Boko Haram and Ansaru, and a prohibition against knowingly providing material support to either organization. In addition to denying both groups access to the U.S. financial system, these designations will assist law enforcement efforts to pursue these groups and investigate and prosecute individuals associated with Boko Haram and Ansaru’s terror. These designations notify the world that the United States and Nigeria are jointly combatting the extremist violence of Boko Haram and Ansaru.Some background from an al Jazeera story on the designations:
Boko Haram, which translates as "Western education is sinful", stepped up its attacks against civilians and government installations this year, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa last May. The group has since 2009 been fighting to create an Islamic state in the country's mainly Muslim north.