Nigeria - US Debates 'Terrorist' Sanctions For Boko Haram Militants

The U.S. State Department is debating the wisdom of designating the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram a "foreign terrorist organization" despite entreaties from lawmakers and the Justice Department to do so.
U.S. diplomats are giving serious consideration to the arguments of a group of academics who sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week urging her department not to apply the "terrorist" label to the al Qaeda-linked group.

The professors said Boko Haram's violent tactics have "turned most Nigerians against them," and their reputation among other militants might be enhanced by a "terrorist" designation.
U.S. action might also validate the position of more radical elements of Boko Haram, which is divided into factions, the professors said.
The academics also argued that any U.S. move to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group would "effectively endorse excessive use of force" against the group by Nigerian security forces "at a time when the rule of law in Nigeria is in the balance."
Abuses by Nigerian security forces already have "facilitated radical recruitment," the professors said.
A group of Republican senators led by Scott Brown of Massachusetts introduced legislation on Thursday that would require the State Department to determine whether Boko Haram should be formally labeled a "foreign terrorist" group.
The designation would subject it to economic sanctions, including the freezing of U.S. bank accounts, and would make it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide support to the group.
Brown said the group had allegedly been responsible for more than 700 deaths in the last 18 months.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the group had been improving the design of its homemade bombs, which constitute a "serious threat to international and U.S. interests."
In the House of Representatives, Republican Patrick Meehan, who chairs a subcommittee on homeland security, has introduced an amendment that would force the administration to add Boko Haram to the terrorism list or explain why it was not doing so.
A congressional source said State Department representatives are lobbying Congress to stop such legislation.
U.S. government sources confirmed that the academics' arguments are being taken seriously at the State Department, where they have featured in internal discussions about the "terrorist" designation.
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