The United States on Thursday tagged three Boko Haram leaders as ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorists’ and blocked their assets. The three individuals are Abubakar Shekau, aged around 43, described as a Boko Haram leader who allegedly aligned himself with al Qaeda in a video message; Abubakar Adam Kambar, aged roughly 35; and Khalid al Barnawi, aged approximately 36. All three are native Nigerians. The action by the State and Treasury departments follows growing pressure on President Barrack Obama’s administration to take stronger action against Boko Haram, Reuters reports. In the decision, conveyed in a statement by the U.S Department of State, the U.S stopped short of putting the group as a whole on its terror list.
The full statement reads, “The Department of State designated Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224. Shekau is the most visible leader of the Nigeria-based militant group Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, commonly referred to as Boko Haram. Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar have ties to Boko Haram and have close links to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
“Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in northern Nigeria, its primary area of operation. In the last 18 months, Boko Haram or associated militants have killed more than 1,000 people. Boko Haram is credited with the August 26, 2011 attack on the United Nations building Abuja that killed at least 23 people and wounded scores more. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for the December 25, 2011 attack on the Saint Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Nigeria, that killed at least 35 and wounded dozens more. Boko Haram’s deadliest violence occurred on January 20, 2012 in Kano, Nigeria, with a series of attacks that killed more than 180 people. Boko Haram’s victims have been overwhelmingly civilian.
“The designation under E.O. 13224 blocks all of Shekau’s, Kambar’s and al-Barnawi’s property interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals. These designations demonstrate the United States resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.” SDGT is a designation authorised under U.S Executive Order 13224 (1), among other executive orders, and Title 31, Parts 595, 596, and 597 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, among other U.S laws and regulations.
SDGT designations are administered and enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S Treasury Department.
SDGTs are entities and individuals who OFAC finds have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism, or who OFAC finds provide support, services, or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists and terrorist organisations designated under OFAC Counter Terrorism Sanctions programs, as well as such persons’ subsidiaries, front organisations, agents, or associates. They are designated under OFAC’s Counter Terrorism Sanction programs.
Boko Haram, which says it wants to establish an Islamic caliphate in Northern Nigeria, has stepped up attacks on churches this year.
Thursday’s action, officials said, involves applying the “terrorist” designation to three men presumed to be central figures in the group. By this action, the U.S has frozen any assets they have in the United States, and barred U.S persons from any transactions with them. It is among the first such action the U.S government has taken against Boko Haram, but falls short of demands from some U.S lawmakers and the Justice Department to designate the entire group as a “foreign terrorist organisation.”
The State Department has been under pressure to act against Boko Haram for months. In January, Lisa Monaco, the Justice Department’s top national security official, sent a letter to the State Department arguing that the Nigerian group met the criteria for a “foreign terrorist” listing because it either engages in terrorism that threatens the United States or has a capability or intent to do so.
Boko Haram increasingly is seen as a potent threat to Nigeria, the continent’s most populous state and major oil producer, and as part of growing arc of Islamist extremist groups stretching across northern Africa.
More recently, a group of Republican senators led by Scott Brown of Massachusetts introduced legislation requiring the State Department to determine whether Boko Haram should be designated as a terrorist group.
Republican Representative Patrick Meehan, who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee in the House, also introduced an amendment that would force the administration to add Boko Haram to the terrorism list or explain why it was not doing so.
However, U.S diplomats are weighing these demands against counter arguments, including those made by a group of academic experts on Africa who sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month urging her not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
The academics argued that the move could backfire by enhancing the group’s reputation among potential recruits and other militant groups.
A U.S designation might also empower more radical elements of Boko Haram, which is divided into factions, the professors said. In her letter to the State Department, Monaco of the Justice Department reported that since 2009 Boko Haram has conducted violent attacks against Nigeria’s “police, politicians, public institutions and civilian population.”
Monaco said that according to press reports, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for 510 victims in 2011, and also took credit for a January 20 attack on government buildings in Kano in which more than 160 were killed.
She said that although Boko Haram attacks until now have occurred only within Nigeria, Washington should not underestimate the threat the group poses to U.S interests.