Fear of Boko Haram spreads to America

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence has released a bipartisan report detailing the evolution and deadly activities of Nigeria’s extremist Boko Haram sect blamed for scores of attacks, including the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters here killing 23 people and injuring more than 80 others.

Releasing the report entitled “Boko Haram – Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland, in conjunction with a Subcommittee hearing, Reps Patrick Meehan and Jackie Speier said the activities of the sect had become a potent threat to peace in the U.S. and that authorities need to pay closer attention to its activities. 

“It is critical that the U.S. Intelligence Community thoroughly and carefully examine the extent of the threat from Boko Haram to the U.S. Homeland,” Chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Mr. Meehan said. “Our report found that the August attack on the U.N. represented a major escalation in the targeting and tactics of Boko Haram, an evolution that mirrors the rise of other al Qaeda affiliate groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  While some believe Boko Haram will focus only on targets within Nigeria and does not have the intent or capability to strike the U.S. Homeland, the same was assessed about AQAP and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), before their near fatal attacks over Detroit on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009 and in Times Square in May 2010.  

“This report is intended to raise awareness of the emerging threat posed by Boko Haram to the U.S. Homeland and to encourage the U.S. Intelligence Community to be especially vigilant to ensure Boko Haram does not reach our shores.”

In her own comment, a member of the committee, Ms Speier, said “We must constantly be vigilant to new threats, wherever they may arise. In attacking the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria with a sophisticated car bomb killing 23, Boko Haram graduated from a domestic Nigerian threat to a terrorist threat to the international community.  What we need now is information, intelligence and cooperation with our allies to understand and appropriately respond to this new threat. Hopefully this report and this hearing will help us do just that.”

The report followed a September 13, 2011 letter from Ms Meehan to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting the State Department initiate an investigation to determine whether Boko Haram warrants Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation.

The findings and recommendations from the report follow: 

Findings

1.     Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to U.S. interests  and the U.S. Homeland.

2.     Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab.

3.     Boko Haram’s evolution in targeting and tactics closely tracks that of other al Qaeda affiliates that have targeted the U.S. Homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

4.     The U.S. Intelligence Community largely underestimated the potential for al Qaeda affiliate groups to target the U.S. Homeland, wrongly assessing they had only regional ambitions and threats against the U.S. Homeland were merely “aspirational.”

5.     The United States should work with the Government of Nigeria to build counterterrorism and intelligence capability to effectively counter Boko Haram.

Recommendations

1.      Do Not Underestimate Boko Haram’s Intent and Capability to Attack the U.S. Homeland:  As this report makes clear, the U.S. Intelligence Community has recently underestimated the intent and capability of terrorist groups to strike the homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  These underestimations had near deadly consequences on Christmas Day 2009 over Detroit and in May 2010 in Times Square.

2.     Determine Whether Boko Haram Should be Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO):  The Secretary of State should conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended.  Following the Boko Haram attack on the United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, we wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an investigation to determine whether FTO designation was necessary.  In light of Boko Haram’s continued escalation, FTO designation may  be required to provide our intelligence and law enforcement communities the tools necessary to ensure Boko Haram does not attack U.S. interests and the U.S. Homeland.

3.     Increase U.S. Intelligence Community Collection on Boko Haram:  The U.S. Intelligence Community must increase its intelligence collection on Boko Haram, including human intelligence (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT).  It must also enhance its liaison relationship with Nigerian security services and help build their capacity to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram to Nigerian and U.S. interests. 

4.     Conduct Outreach With Nigerian Diaspora Communities in the United States: The U.S. government should develop relationships with Nigerian diaspora communities in the United States to learn more about Boko Haram and the factors driving its evolution, intent, capability, and targeting.  Through familial and personal relationships, diaspora communities in the United States provide a unique and invaluable perspective on their home country. 

5.     Increase U.S. Government Support for Nigerian Counterterrorism and Intelligence Programs:  The U.S. Government should increase its support for programs that enhance the ability of Nigerian security forces to more effectively target Boko Haram and counter its evolution.  The U.S. and Nigerian governments should also work more closely to increase intelligence collection.

 


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