WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US congressional report on Wednesday flagged Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist sect as an “emerging threat” that could represent an eventual security risk to the United States and its interests.
The group has been blamed for scores of attacks in Nigeria, including the August suicide bombing of the United Nations’ Nigeria headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed at least 24 people, and is believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda.
The Congress report, presented at a hearing of the House of Representatives subcommittee on counter-terrorism and intelligence, said that US interests are also at risk.
“Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland,” said the 28-page report written by the panel.
“The United States should work with the government of Nigeria to build counterterrorism and intelligence capability to effectively counter Boko Haram,” it said.
The document added that the Islamist group “has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Shebab.”
Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for multiple gun, bomb and suicide attacks this month in Damatur, targeting police and churches and killing 150 people in addition to the UN attack, and US lawmakers said they believe that the risk to the United States has been underestimated.
The group’s “fast evolution in targeting and tactics mirrors other Al-Qaeda affiliated groups and is worrisome,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Representative Patrick Meehan, said at the start of the hearing.
“While I recognize there is little evidence at this moment to suggest Boko Haram is planning attacks against the (US) homeland, lack of evidence does not mean it cannot happen,” he said.
Peter Pham, an expert with the Atlantic Council thinktank, testified at the hearing that for the moment, the Nigerian group’s reach is “still somewhat limited.”
“Nevertheless, the fact that the group has been able in recent months to expand its operations beyond its base in northern Nigeria ought to be a wake-up call to both the Nigerian government and the international community,” Pham told lawmakers.