As another frenzy of religious violence engulfs northern Nigeria, the United States is making its first substantial policy move regarding the situation. As Reuters reports, the State Department has now officially designated three of Boko Haram’s leaders as “foreign terrorists,” although Boko Haram itself has not yet been designated as a terrorist group.This designation may sound like a case of stating the obvious, but the fact that the three individuals, not the group as a whole, were designated as terrorists is intended by the U.S. to downplay the reach and capabilities of Boko Haram.Based on the situation in Nigeria, that is probably the right decision. There are signs that members of Boko Haram (and especially these three members) may have contact with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but there is no indication yet that its goals extend beyond their own country. The group is still focused on promoting religious fanaticism in Nigeria, provoking ethnic and religious warfare domestically, fighting local government incompetence, and seeking to increase the power of Muslims in Nigeria. An ugly agenda, but it isn’t a pawn of al-Qaeda just yet.But Boko Haram is working in a region of weak states with a lot of religious and tribal conflict. The line between provoking a Nigerian religious war and waging international religious war is easy to cross.
Boko Haram: A Threat Abroad?