State Dep’t Official Defends Decision Not to Designate Boko Haram a Terrorist Organization--Then Calls it ‘Terrorist Organization’

Penny Starr | July 11, 2012 | 6:32pm EDT
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Site of an explosion at a church in Kaduna, Nigeria, on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012. (AP Photo)

( – Testifying on Capitol Hill this week, the State Department’s top official for Africa defended the decision not to designate Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization” (FTO) – but then used the term “terrorist organization” in reference to the Nigerian Islamist group.

A Nigerian Christian leader criticized the move, saying failure to designate Boko Haram as an FTO emboldened the group and signaled that its targeting of Christians was acceptable.

The administration on June 21 listed three Boko Haram leaders as “specially designated global terrorists” (SDGTs) but stopped short to designating the group as an FTO under U.S. law, a step some Republican lawmakers have long been urging.

Individuals and entities listed as SDGTs have any assets they may hold in the U.S. frozen, and Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights on Tuesday, Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of African Affairs, spoke about the decision.

“Before we prescribe actions, it is important that we understand what Boko Haram is and what it is not,” he said in his prepared remarks. “The truth is that our understanding is limited at best.

“Boko Haram is composed of at least two organizations, a larger organization focused primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government, and a smaller more dangerous group that is increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal.”

Questioned by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the subcommittee, Carson said most followers of Boko Haram were only interested in discrediting the government – both under the current Christian president and his Muslim predecessor – for its “failure to provide services to people.”

Then Carson called the group a “terrorist organization.”

“Boko Haram’s emergence as a terrorist organization in Nigeria predates the current government, and irrespective whether there is a Christian leader or a Muslim leader in the country, as long as the social, economic problems exist in the North to the extent that they do, there will be a reaction which may in fact – as this one does – take on political consequences,” he said.

Smith disagreed with Carson’s assessment, saying that Boko Haram had “at its core a radical Islamic position.”

“I believe that at its core this is an attempt to impose shari’a law and to promote a radicalized version,” he said.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for much of the ongoing violence in Nigeria. On June 17 Boko Haram terrorists killed around 16 people and wounded scores more in suicide bombings at three Christian churches in the north of Africa’s most populous country.

It was the third consecutive Sunday that saw church attendees killed at the hands of the group, whose initial campaign promoting shari’a and opposing “Western education” has increasingly taken the form of an anti-Christian jihad.

Christian Association of Nigeria president Ayo Oritsejafor (Photo: World of Life Bible Church)

Another witness at the hearing, Christian Association of Nigeria president Ayo Oritsejafor, made it clear that he views Boko Haram as a terrorist organization with a clear mission.

“To an outside observer it may appear as though Boko Haram is not a monolithic group, that it is fragmented and disorganized, but I am here today to give you the Nigerian perspective,” Oritsejafor said. “Since its creation, the Boko Haram network has never hidden its agenda or intentions.

“Boko Haram has openly stated that they reject the Nigerian state and its constitution and seek to impose shari’a law,” he continued. “To this end, Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence.”

“They seek an end to Western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria,” he added.

Oritsejafor, a Pentecostal pastor, said by not designating Boko Haram as an FTO, the U.S. was sending “a very clear message” to the Nigerian government and the rest of the world that the killing of innocent Christians as well as Muslims who reject the group’s ideology is acceptable.

“It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted,” Oritsejafor said.

“A non-designation for the group only serves to hamper the cause of justice, and has emboldened Boko Haram to continue to strike out at those who are denied equal protection under the law.”

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