The suicide attack against Harvest Field Pentecostal Church in the northern Nigerian on Sunday serves as another reminder of Boko Haram’s enduring violence.
As many as a dozen people were killed and 30 wounded as the driver rammed his car into the church’s security gate, setting off explosives.
In the past 18 months, Boko Haram has killed approximately 1,000 people, mostly Christians and Nigerian security forces. In January, the group warned Christians living in the north that they had three days to evacuate or else they could expect more attacks. The escalation in violence is part of the group’s efforts to establish an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.
Though Boko Haram is known for drive-by shootings and gun attacks, its tactics have become more sophisticated. It now uses improvised explosive devices and vehicle born improvised explosive devices, technology some experts say is garnered from regional terrorist groups.
Such bloodshed is slowly being recognized in Washington. Though the Obama Administration has condemned the violence and is providing resources to the Nigerian government to counter Boko Haram, the State Department is unwilling to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). While Boko Haram meets the legal requirements for FTO designation, State has refrained from pursuing designation.
Some Nigeria watchers argue that Boko Haram is unique from other international terrorist groups and that designation would discourage political solutions to the crisis (among other reasons). However, refusing to acknowledge a threat that could potentially harm U.S. citizens and/or the homeland is not worth the risk.
Last January, the Department of Justice urged State to designate Boko Haram an FTO, owing to its links with other international terror groups, including al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Yet State has shown little appetite for designation.
Additionally, there are some in Congress who refuse to take Boko Haram’s growing momentum lightly. Last month, Representative Patrick Meehan (R–PA) introduced H.R. 5822, the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act, which would require State to determine whether Boko Haram meets the criteria for FTO. A week later, Senator Scott Brown (R–MA) introduced similar legislation.
As the Nigerian government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, uses tough rhetoric in place of sound policy, Sunday’s tragedy will most certainly not be the last one to befall Nigeria’s Christians. Likewise, the Obama Administration is doing no favors to the Nigerian people or U.S. security by wavering on how to classify Boko Haram.
Prudence Ukwishatse contributed to this blog post.