Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (Newscom)

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (Newscom)

The U.S. Department of State has finally designated the Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram and a splinter faction known as Ansaru as official foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). It’s about time.

The Heritage Foundation has long been calling for the group’s official designation and warned about the alarming trends of religious extremism in Nigeria since 2009. The FTO designation is a legal definition that is enforced by a variety of U.S. government agencies. The U.S. egregiously delayed the decision to designate Boko Haram even after Nigeria and the United Kingdom both designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as an official terrorist groups earlier this year.

The U.S. FTO designation prohibits U.S. citizens from “knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, Boko Haram and Ansaru.” It also enables the U.S. government to freeze “all property and interests in property of the organizations that are in the United States, or come within the United States or the control of U.S. persons.”

Today’s announcement suggests a move in the right direction by the Obama Administration to eliminate financial and material support to the terrorist group in West Africa. Boko Haram made its international terrorist aims clear after a suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2011 that killed 21 people. The group recently carried out a string of roadside attacks in Benisheikh, Nigeria, killing over 160 civilians.

As Heritage experts have previously stated, “The ongoing instability Nigeria and the region has significant implications for U.S. interests.” Nigeria is the U.S.’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, continues to remain a top oil producer for the U.S., and contributes the second largest number of U.N. peacekeepers worldwide.

Now comes the hard part: The Administration needs to clearly articulate and implement a strategy that partners with government of Nigeria and neighboring countries such as Niger, Chad, and Cameroon to eliminate the group’s operating space and recruiting grounds and effectively disrupts the core of Boko Haram and Ansaru.

Such a strategy needs to be developed and implemented quickly before Boko Haram and Ansaru further metastasize on the continent and strengthen links with other Al-Qaeda-linked FTOs, including al-Shabaab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

According to reports, Boko Haram already trains with other al-Qaeda-linked groups, so further coordination amongst the groups would come at the detriment of U.S. national security and economic interests in Africa. Ansaru has already started to kidnap foreigners, and earlier this year, the group executed seven international construction workers.

Al-Qaeda’s hold in sub-Saharan Africa is real, and addressing the growing threat of terrorism on the continent should be a priority for the Obama Administration.