World Bulletin/News Desk
The U.S. State Department is debating the wisdom of designating the Nigerian 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 group.
The professors said Boko Haram's 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.
A. Carl Levan, an American University scholar who helped organize the letter to the State Department, said human rights groups had called attention to alleged "excesses" by Nigerian security forces, and said future abuses might only be encouraged if the United States puts a "terrorist" label on Boko Haram.
He also said that the principal legal consequence of an FTO designation -- giving U.S. authorities the ability to freeze the group's assets and take legal action against people who support it -- would have little effect, since "when they need money they rob a bank."
Officially, the State Department will only say that it is considering all the options.
"Working with the Nigerian government to address the growing threat of violent extremism in Nigeria is a top priority for the administration," said a spokeswoman for the department's Africa bureau.
The official added: "On the question of designating Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)...the Department does not comment in advance on such decisions. I can assure you, however, that the Department is reviewing all options with regards to Boko Haram, including designation as an FTO."
In January, the top counter-terrorism official at the Justice Department weighed in with the State Department in favor of an early move to impose U.S. sanctions on the group.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a letter to the State Department's counter-terrorism chief that Boko Haram met the criteria for a "foreign terrorist" listing because it either engages in terrorism which threatens the United States or has a capability or intent to do so.
Monaco said that although Boko Haram attacks until now have occurred only within Nigeria, the United States should not underestimate the threat the group poses to U.S. interests. Reuters reported earlier this month on her letter, which was not released to the public.
Angelino Alfano, on a one-day visit to Tunis, met with his counterpart Khemaies Jhinaoui and President Beji Caid Essebsi and promised closer relations between the two Mediterranean nations.
Turkey extends condolences to 'friend and ally' Italy
"It's true that during the period of the presidency of Mr. Obama our relations seriously worsened on all levels," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Obama's last full working day as US leader before Donald Trump is sworn in Friday.
Staffan de Mistura will lead the UN delegation to the meetings in the Kazakh capital of Astana that are due to begin on Monday.
May sought to reassure guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Brexit did not signal a retreat into protectionism, as a slew of banks revealed plans to relocate staff following her announcement on Tuesday that Britain would leave the single market.
Voicing deep concerns about the development, Stoltenberg said cyber defence will play a key role at the next NATO summit.
Rebels had escaped from Bihanga military training school after being given asylum in Uganda in 2013
Border towns show no resistance to troops, meant to force strongman president to step down peacefully after diplomacy failed
The head of Iraq's elite Counter-Terror Service, which has been doing most of the fighting in Mosul, as well as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Wednesday that the city's east bank had been "liberated".
Interstate Aviation Committee will analyze flight recorders of cargo plane that crashes Monday near Kyrgyz capital
Al-Qaeda linked militant group Al-Mourabitoun claims responsibility for attack on Malian military base
Mexican migrants are scrambling in an effort to reach the US before Trump takes over
The quakes, all measuring more than five magnitude, struck close to Amatrice, the mountain town devastated by an August earthquake that left nearly 300 people dead.
During his campaign, Trump said he would "bomb the shit" out of ISIL and claimed to have a secret plan to quickly defeat the group.
He had avoided home after a warning that Hamas security forces were looking for him due to his role as an organiser of recent protests over severe electricity shortages.
Jammeh's mandate ended at midnight (local and GMT) but he has steadfastly refused to leave office after losing elections last month to Adama Barrow