News / Africa

Terror Label for Boko Haram Debated

A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
Nico Colombant

While violence involving Boko Haram extremists occurs on an almost daily basis in northern Nigeria, a debate is taking place in the United States over whether the radicals should be labeled as a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. State Department currently designates 49 extremist groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Only one of those groups comes from sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia's al-Shabab extremists.

Peter Lewis is the director of the African Studies program at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He calls Boko Haram a violent insurgency, but says it would be a mistake for the State Department to add it to the list of terror groups. "We are short on facts other than the undisputed fact that Boko Haram has become a deadly insurgency, not just a security problem, or a challenge, but an organized, capable insurgency in northern Nigeria," he said.

Lewis says very little is known about the group's leadership structure or possible external ties.  He says much more is understood about the context of poverty, corruption, poor governance and religious rivalries within which Boko Haram operates.

"Boko Haram, while it is a small movement, while it is essentially a sect that has a claim on the loyalties and ideas of only a tiny minority of northern Nigerians, nonetheless taps into a broader sense of resentment, of anger, a sense of marginality and a broader catchment and demographic of alienated, unemployed, poorly educated northern youth," he said.

Lewis says alleged Boko Haram spokespeople may even have ties to the Nigerian government and pretend they have links with regional terrorist groups to attract more attention and outside funding in the effort to stop the insurgency.

One analyst in favor of the terror label is former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter.  He disagreed with Lewis at a recent Washington conference. "It is really a terrorist group.  And Peter said let us not designate it [as such].  I would like to hear your explanation as to why.  It is a terrorist group.  If you kill 28 innocent people worshipping in a church, it is a terrorist group," he said.

Jeter was referring to bombings during Christmas holiday church services last year on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja.

Other Boko Haram attacks have targeted security forces and Muslims.  Leaders who have come forward in the media have said they want to impose Islamic Sharia law.  The name Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin," was initially given by critics of the radicals as a way to make fun of them.  

Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, recently wrote about Boko Haram in an opinion article in The New York Times.  Herskovits said that if the United States placed the group on the foreign terror list, it would make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.  She also said such a decision could turn the U.S. government into an enemy of many of northern Nigeria's  Muslims.  Herskovits says pressure is growing from some lawmakers and U.S. government agencies to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

John Campbell, from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, says U.S.-Nigerian ties are extremely important, and that these debates should not be taken lightly. "We face the challenge of developing a policy response to Nigerian developments that reconciles our strategic interests with our abiding goal of promoting democracy and sustainable development in the giant of Africa," he said.

Last year, U.S. lawmakers from the House Committee on Homeland Security also proposed that Boko Haram be added to the list of designated foreign terror groups, but so far officials from the State Department's Africa bureau have disagreed, and the northern Nigerian radicals have remained off the list.

On its website, the State Department says the designation plays a critical role in the U.S. fight against terrorism and is an effective means to curtail support for terrorist activities and for pressuring groups to get out of the terror business.

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs