The United Nations has officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist group linked to al Qaida. The world body’s Security Council also imposed sanctions against the Islamist extremists who have carried out a wave of deadly attacks and the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, welcomed the council’s action, calling it “an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities”.
Nigeria, which is serving a two-year term on the Security Council, asked its committee monitoring sanctions against al Qaida to add Boko Haram to the list of al Qaida-linked organisations subject to an arms embargo and asset freeze.
The 14 other council members had until last night to object: none did. The group was then added to the UN sanctions list under the name Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, with Boko Haram as an alias.
Australia’s UN ambassador Gary Quinlan, who chairs the sanctions committee, said there was “very clear evidence” that Boko Haram members trained with al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, particularly in developing improvised explosive devices – “one of the main weapons of modern-day terrorism and particularly al Qaida”.
There is also evidence that a significant number of Boko Haram members fought alongside al Qaida affiliates in Mali, he said.
Mr Quinlan said Boko Haram’s current leader, Abubakar Shekau, also made “very, very strong statements of … terrorist solidarity with al Qaida in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia” and other places in November 2012.
Before Boko Haram’s addition the al Qaida sanctions list included 62 entities and groups and 213 individuals who are also subject to travel bans.
Mr Quinlan said it was hard to say what the practical impact of sanctions against Boko Haram would be. One possible problem in tracking their finances, he said, is that large parts of the group work in the jungle and probably use cash rather than “substantial or sophisticated financial arrangements for banking – but you never know”.
He urged all 193 UN member states to focus on Boko Haram as a violent al Qaida-related group, ensure it was included in any national terrorist lists and check their own financial and arms dealings to ensure that the organisation was not receiving money or weapons.
Nigeria’s UN ambassador U Joy Ogwu said on Wednesday: “The important thing is to attack the problem, and that is terrorism.”
Boko Haram’s five-year-old Islamic uprising has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians, including more than 1,500 people killed in attacks so far this year.
The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, has tried to root out Western influence by targeting schools, churches, mosques, government buildings and security forces.
The home-grown terror group was largely contained to the northern part of Nigeria before expanding its reach with the help of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s affiliate in West Africa.
According to the sanctions committee, Boko Haram is responsible for attacks and kidnappings in Nigeria and Cameroon and has also been active in Chad and Niger.
At a summit in Paris on Saturday aimed at hammering out a plan to rescue the 276 girls, Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram was acting “clearly as an al Qaida operation”. He only reluctantly accepted outside help after years of insisting that Boko Haram was a local problem.
French president Francois Hollande told the summit Boko Haram was armed with weapons that came from Libya following the ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the training took place in Mali before the removal of its al Qaida-linked Islamist leaders.