CAPITOL HILL — A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday held a hearing on U.S. policy toward Nigeria. A senior State Department official defended the Obama administration's decision not to designate the Islamic militant group Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.
The chairman of the Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Subcommittee, New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, called on the United States and all members of the international community to do more to stop ongoing attacks by militant Islamists on Christian villages in Nigeria.
"Attacks by the Nigeria Islamic group Boko Haram on Christians, including attacks launched this past weekend, are absolutely unprovoked, and they are unconscionable. People of all faiths, and all people of good will must demand immediate action against the terrorist organization," he said.
Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 people in Nigeria during the past two years. The violence has also hurt economic development, investment and trade in Africa's most populous country and leading oil producer.
Smith repeatedly asked Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson why the United States has not taken action to officially designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. Carson noted that the United States recently added three of Boko Haram's top leaders to a list of most wanted global terrorists, but said the group is not homogenous. He said there a small part of the group is sophisticated and lethal, but added:
"We believe that the larger element of Boko Haram is not interested in doing anything but attempting to discredit, disgrace the Nigerian government," he said.
Carson said Boko Haram capitalizes on the poverty and misery in the northern part of Nigeria, and called on the Nigerian government to address the root cause of the problem by providing better governance to all Nigerians. "Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the north that the government must find a way of addressing," he said.
Representative Smith rejected any assertion that terrorism is caused by social and economic problems, saying that the State Department underestimates the threat of militant Islamists who seek to impose Sharia, or Islamic law.
"Ideology that is highly, highly radicalized may exploit poverty at times, but poor people do not necessarily become terrorists and killers. That is an insult, frankly, to poor people," he said.
Carson said the United States is helping Nigeria boost its security by providing police, investigative and forensic training, and by calling on the Nigerian military not to commit human rights abuses as it searches for Boko Haram militants.