The United States on Thursday named three leaders of the Boko Haram sect as “foreign terrorists”, in the first global move to classify the sect, ahead of the Nigerian government which still regards the group as insurgents.
The United State designated Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnati Lil Da’awati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko HAram, as a terrorist.
Mr. Shekau and two other leaders of the group, Abubakar Kambar, and Khalid al Barnawi were officially declared terrorists on Thursday in a statement by the US State Department. The latter two are believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.
The action of the US government is the first time it has blacklisted members of the Islamist group which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on Nigeria since 2009, killing over 1500 persons.
“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,” the State Department said in a statement.
“These designations demonstrate the United States’ resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks,” it added.
In the past one month, the sect has stepped up its attacks on Christian places of worship.
Reuters news agency reports that U.S. officials say the decision to list individual Boko Haram members, rather than apply the more sweeping “Foreign Terrorist Organization” label to the group as a whole as some U.S. lawmakers have demanded, reflected a desire not to elevate the group’s profile.
In May, Nigeria’s ambassador to Washington, Ade Adefuye, and National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi, formally requested the United States not to include the Boko Haram sect in its watch list of foreign terrorist groups posing a threat to the US or its global interests.
They feared that including Boko Haram in the US watch list could make it more difficult for Nigerians to travel to the US and further affect bilateral trade between the two countries.
The listing of these three by the US makes their “property interests subject to US jurisdiction and prohibits US persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals.”
It is not clear if this action by the US will have any effect on the men as they are not known to have any property or business interest there.