The Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security recently had a hearing on emerging threats to the United States posed by Boko Haram, the Islamic group originating from Northeast Nigeria. The report of the hearing dated November 30, 2011 as endorsed by sub-committee chairman Rep. Patrick Meehan and the ranking Democrat member, Rep. Jackie Speier will from today be serialized.
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Rep. Patrick Meehan, Chairman Rep. Jackie Speier, Ranking Member November 30, 2011
On August 26, 2011, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) into the United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 23 people and injuring more than 80 others. Responsibility for the bombing, one of the deadliest in the United Nations’ history, was claimed by Boko Haram, an Islamist religious sect turned insurgent group based in the predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria. While this attack occurred inside Nigerian borders, it was the first time Boko Haram had targeted an international, non-Nigerian entity.
Significant shift in targetting and goals
The attack marked a significant shift in the targeting and goals of the group, largely unknown to the U.S. Intelligence Community, and capped off an evolution in the capabilities of Boko Haram, beginning in the mid-2000s, from attacks with poisoned arrows and machetes to sophisticated car bombings.
In a video that surfaced in Nigeria in the weeks following the U.N. bombing, the perpetrator of the attack described the U.N. as a forum for “all global evil” and stated the attacks were designed to “send a message to the U.S. President and ‘other infidels.’”
According to Ambassador Anthony Holmes, Deputy to the Commander for CivilMilitary Activities (DCMA) of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), members of Boko Haram are being trained by Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). They are also believed to have ties to the Somalian militant group al Shabaab.
This cooperation, combined with the increased sophistication of attacks executed by Boko Haram, have led to concerns from the U.S. Intelligence Community over the sect’s intent and capability to strike Western targets in Nigeria, throughout Africa, and most importantly, the U.S. Homeland.
Historically, Boko Haram has been focused on Nigerian government targets. Until recently, Western intelligence services did not widely view Boko Haram as a potential threat. Even after the U.N. attack, Nigerian experts remain skeptical about Boko Haram’s intent and capability to strike U.S. interests and the homeland.
However, in the recent past, the U.S. Intelligence Community has underestimated the intent and capability of other terrorist groups to launch attacks against the U.S. Homeland. The most notable recent examples include al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban.
The U.S. Intelligence Community and outside counterterrorism and intelligence experts assessed that AQAP and TTP were regionally based groups with a target set limited to Western supported governments or, at worst, American interests in the Middle East and South Asia.
These assessments and general assumptions nearly proved fatal when a series of attempted attacks planned, directed, and executed by these two groups were thwarted on Christmas Day 2009 on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit, and in May 2010 in New York City’s Time Square. Given the ability of these groups to become operational with meager resources, it wont be prudent for the U.S. Government to thoroughly and carefully examine the extent of the threat from Boko Haram to the U.S. Homeland
As Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, it is our duty to examine all threats to the U.S Homeland. Boko Haram’s recent escalation has prompted us to examine the group’s potential, intent and capability to attack the United States interest and the U.S. Homeland. This report will discuss the evolution of Boko Haram, its goals and potential to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S. interests and the U.S. Homeland.
This report will further discuss Nigerian Counterterrorism capabilities, current U.S. diplomatic efforts and future U.S. engagement and assistance options to assist the Nigerian Government in countering the threat posed by Boko Haram. It is our hope that the conclusions in this report will raise awareness about the emerging threat posed by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram’s evolvement
This report is based on open source information and extensive unclassified briefings from government and non-government entities. However, it should be noted that because of the speed with which Boko Haram has evolved as a terrorist group, little is known about the sect.
Information is murky and academic research is limited. This report attempts to shed light on Boko Haram and the emerging threat it poses to U.S. interests and homeland. To the extent this report spurs additional scholarship and intelligence collection, the U.S. Government will benefit and the American people will be safer.
PATRICK MEEHAN – Chairman, JACKIE SPEIER – Ranking Member US findings
1. Boko Haram Has Quickly Evolved And Poses An Emerging Threat To U.s. Interests And The U.s. Homeland.
2. Boko Haram 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 Shabaab.
3. Boko Haram’s Evolution In Targeting And Tactics Closely Tracks That Of Other Al Qaeda Affiliates That Have Targeted The U.s. Homeland, Most Notably Al Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) And Tehrik-i-taliban Pakistan (Ttp).
4. The U.s. Intelligence Community Largely Underestimated The Potential For Al Qaeda Affiliate Groups To Target The U.s. Homeland, Wrongly Assessing They Had Only Regional Ambitions And Threats Against The U.s. Homeland Were Merely “Aspirational.”
5. The United States Should Work With The Government Of Nigeria To Build Counterterrorism And Intelligence Capability To Effectively Counter Boko Haram.
1. Do Not Underestimate Boko Haram’s Intent And Capability To Attack The U.s. Homeland: As this report makes clear, the U.S. Intelligence Community has recently underestimated the intent and capability of terrorist groups to strike the homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These underestimations had near deadly consequences on Christmas Day 2009 over Detroit and in May 2010 in Times Square.
2. Determine Whether Boko Haram Should Be Designated A Foreign Terrorist Organization (Fto): The Secretary of State should conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended.
Boko Haram attack
Following the Boko Haram attack on the United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, we wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an investigation to determine whether FTO designation was necessary.
In light of Boko Haram’s continued escalation, FTO designation may be required to provide our intelligence and law enforcement communities the tools necessary to ensure Boko Haram does not attack U.S. interests and the U.S. Homeland.
3. Increase U.s. Intelligence Community Collection On Boko Haram: The U.S. Intelligence Community must increase its intelligence collection on Boko Haram, including human intelligence (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT).
It must also enhance its liaison relationship with Nigerian security services and help build their capacity to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram to Nigerian and U.S. interests.