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US designates Boko Haram a terrorist group

The US has designated two Nigerian militant groups, including Boko Haram, as terrorist organizations. The groups are believed to be responsible for killing thousands of people in north and central regions of the country.

On Wednesday, the US State Department announced that the designaton of Ansaru and Boko Haram as "foreign terrorist organizations" would block business and financial transactions to the groups. It also gives the US government the ability to investigate and prosecute people associated with them.

"By cutting these terrorist organizations off from US financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north," Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism advisor, said in a statement.

According to the State Department, Boko Haram, which has ties to al Qaeda, was behind the September 2013 attacks in Benisheik, Nigeria, that killed more than 160 people. The group is also accused of carrying out the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja two years ago that left 21 people dead.

In July the State Department offered a $7 million (5 million euros) reward for information leading to the arrest of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (pictured above), but stopped short of designating the group a terrorist organization.

Ansaru raided a police station in November 2012, killing officers and freeing militant prisoners, the State Department reported. The group also attacked Nigerian peacekeepers in January and is reportedly responsible for kidnapping several foreigners working or living in the country.

"We encourage Nigeria to pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that uses law enforcement tools effectively, creates economic opportunity, and ensures that human rights are protected and respected," Monaco said.

dr/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)