The Justice Department is pressing the State Department to designate Boko Haram, a Nigerian militant group alleged to be responsible for hundreds of deaths, as a "foreign terrorist organization," according to a document obtained by Reuters.
Lisa Monaco, head of the Justice
Department's national security division, sent a letter in January to
State Department counter-terrorism chief Daniel Benjamin requesting that
Boko Haram, also known as the "Nigerian Taliban," be put on the list.
Congressional source said that in the last few days, State Department
representatives have lobbied Congress to try to stop legislation which
would force the administration to act against the group or explain why
they had not done so.
On Thursday, Rep. Patrick Meehan, a
Republican who chairs a House subcommittee on Homeland Security,
introduced an amendment to a defense bill that does just that, after he
said State officials inexplicably cancel led a briefing on Boko Haram.
several recent cases, including that of the so-called underwear bomber,
in which a Nigerian failed to blow up an airliner headed to Detroit on
Christmas Day 2009, the United States has been handcuffed by waiting too
long to designate a group as "terrorists," Meehan said.
later, after they've committed terrible acts have we put them on the
list of foreign terrorists," Meehan told Reuters. "To not have the
capacity that it gives law enforcement to both monitor and to hold
people who give material support to an organization like that, puts us
at a disadvantage."
Representative Mike Rogers, Chairman of the
House Intelligence Committee, said: "Boko Haram claimed credit for the
suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 23
people and injuring more than 80 others.
"That meets my
definition of a terrorist group, but if the administration has a reason
why they don't want to designate them, I would like to hear it," Rogers
A senior State Department official said the department was
"very concerned about violence in Nigeria" and added that it was
"looking at this very carefully."
The official insisted the
department was "not stalling or dragging our feet." But he noted that
adding a group to the sanctions list is a "rigorous process which has to
stand up in a court of law."
Also on Thursday, Rep. Charlie
Dent added an amendment to a foreign affairs bill that would also
require State to explain why Boko Haram had not been designated a
terrorist organization. The measure passed the House Appropriations
LINKED TO SERIES OF ATTACKS
has recently been at odds with the Obama administration regarding
demands that a Pakistan-based militant group linked to the Taliban known
as the Haqqani Network also be added to the foreign terrorist
Some administration officials have hinted
that they are resisting putting the Haqqani network on the list in the
hope that not doing so might advance continuing, but patchy, peace
negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban groups in Afghanistan.
Attorney General Monaco's letter said that in her view, Boko Haram
meets the criteria for a foreign terrorist listing, in that it either
engages in terrorism which threatens the United States or has a
capability or intent to do so.
According to Monaco, since 2009
the group has targeted violent attacks against Nigeria's "police,
politicians, public institutions and civilian population."
said the group was responsible for an attack in December 2010 in which
80 were killed in a town called Jos; a June 2011 attack on Nigeria's
national police headquarters; an August 2011 attack on a U.N. compound
in Nigerian capital Abuja; and multiple attacks in November and December
2011, including Christmas Day attacks on churches and other targets.
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.
said that although Boko Haram attacks until now have occurred only
within Nigeria, the U.S. should not underestimate the threat the group
poses to U.S. interests.
She claimed the group had forged links
with "transnational terrorist groups," including al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb, a north African affiliate of al Qaeda's Pakistan-based core
group, and Boko Haram has "openly espoused violence against the West."
a March 30 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Meehan and
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King suggested
some of Boko Haram's most recent tactics have paralleled those of al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan,
both of which have been linked to attempted - though unsuccessful -
attacks on the United States.
Administration officials have said
that U.S. government representatives will hold high-level talks with
Nigerian officials in Washington next month and the issue of Boko Haram
is certain to come up.