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Africa

Guarded response to US move on Nigerian Islamist groups

Nigerians hope the designation of Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and Ansaru as terrorist organizations by the US will boost security. Others worry about the impact of US counter-terrorism on their daily lives.

This picture taken on April 30, 2013 shows a Nigerian soldier, part of the 'Operation Flush' patrolling in the remote northeast town of Baga, Borno State. Nigeria's military said on May 16, 2013 that it was ready to launch air strikes against Boko Haram Islamists as several thousand troops moved to the remote northeast to retake territory seized by the insurgents. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria troops taking part in an anti-Islamist terror offensive in Borno state in April 2013

Nigerian human rights activist Abdullahi Muhammad Inuwa believes the US should have labeled Boko Haram and Ansaru as terrorist groups much earlier. "There was a time when there were so many problems from Boko Haram and the US should have acted then," he told DW.

Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria, including attacks on churches and mosques and a 2011 suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja. A state of emergency and a military offensive leveled at the group in three northern states earlier this year has only met with limited success.

DW's correspondent in northern Nigeria, Muhammad al-Amin, said Nigerians fear that their travel plans, the ease of transacting business and transferring money abroad could suffer when US law enforcement officers step up their search for the sponsors and financiers of Nigerian Islamist militant groups.

The White House has directed US agencies to block financial transactions with Boko Haram and Ansaru.

Anti-Terror-Beraterin von Obama Lisa Monaco

Lisa Monaco: "demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism"

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, said the US would be demonstrating strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north "by cutting of these terrorist organizations from US financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States." The US has made it a crime to support these two organizations.

Conflict no longer just Nigerian issue

The Nigerian military said they were encouraged by the US decision.

"It appears they now understand the reality of the challenges we face in dealing with Boko Haram," said Nigerian defense spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade.

US officials, however, have noted reports that Nigerian security forces have violated human rights standards while fighting Boko Haram.

Nigerian security analyst Yahara Ibrahim Shinku told DW the struggle to defeat Bokoo Haram was no longer an issue for Nigeria alone. Drawing parallels with Pakistan and Afghanistan he said "the American government can now decide to come in at any time to see how they can assist in fighting this group."

He also said that about three years ago the US predicted there would be difficulties with the Nigerian political system and that Nigeria might break up by the year 2015, or that some group will be thinking they no longer wish to be part of Nigeria. "I think they have forecasted rightly," he said.

Smoke rises from the police headquarters as people run for safety in Nigeria's northern city of Kano January 20, 2012. At least six people were killed in a string of bomb blasts on Friday in Nigeria's second city Kano and the authorities imposed a curfew across the city, which has been plagued by an insurgency led by the Islamist sect Boko Haram. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the apparently coordinated attacks. REUTERS/Stringer (NIGERIA - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)IL UNREST)

Loss of life and mayhem blamed on Islamist militants have proved a major political and military challenge for Nigeria

'A lot of politics'

Some Nigerians in Gombe in the north of the country were skeptical. Ahmad Gire told DW Boko Haram and Ansaru were local terrorist groups and their activities were within Nigeria and "we never had them in Niger, Chad and Cameroon and by designating as terrorist group I think there are a lot of politics in it.”

Another many, who gave his name as Sagiru said designating Boko Haram and Ansaru as terrorist organizations was "a welcome development if this could solve the security challenges Nigeria is currently facing."

Upside and downside to US move

Ricardo Rene Laremont is a professor of political science and sociology at Binghamton University, State University of New York. An authority on Africa, Islamic law and conflict resolution, he told DW that the upside to designating Boko Haram and Ansaru terrorist organizations enabled certain economic sanctions to be put in place that otherwise would not exist. The areas of counter-terrorism in which the United States has been most effective have generally been intelligence and international economic sanctions. "The downside is that it may link in the eyes of certain people in northeastern Nigeria that there is indeed a working relationship between the United States and Nigeria in this counterterrorism effort. That in some circles may taint Nigeria" he said.

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