WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers who had long pushed for U.S. action against Nigerian Islamic extremists welcomed the State Department's decision on Wednesday to designate two militant groups as foreign terrorist organizations blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in Africa's most populous nation.
Ansaru and Boko Haram, which have links to al-Qaida, are waging a brutal campaign against military, government and civilian targets, including Christians like Habila Adamu, who delivered emotional congressional testimony about being shot in the face because he refused to renounce his faith.
Adamu recounted how masked gunmen came to his home in Yobe state around 11 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2012.
"I told them 'I'm ready to die as a Christian.' Before I closed my mouth, one of them fired at me with an AK-47. It passed through my nose," Adamu said, holding up photographs taken of the entry wound on his nose and exit wound on the side of his neck. "I fell down. ... Blood is rushing everywhere. One of them followed me, stepped on me two times to confirm whether I am still alive or I am dead."
When they assumed he was dead, they shouted "Allah akbar," which means "Allah is great."
Even his wife thought he was dead. When she learned he was alive, she rushed to find help, only to learn that their neighbors, who also were Christians, had been killed. About seven hours later, Adamu was taken for medical treatment and survived.
Today, he has a message for anyone who will hear his story: "Do everything that you can to end this ruthless, religious persecution in northern Nigeria." Adamu testified at a joint hearing of two House Foreign Affairs' subcommittees, on Africa and terrorism.
New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, who chaired the hearing, said Boko Haram also is targeting their fellow Muslims who do not agree with their extremist views, Muslim religious leaders who criticize violence and people affiliated with the Nigerian government, which they see as corrupt and unjust. Smith said the two groups also participate in the global Islamic extremist movement.
Boko Haram was responsible for a suicide bombing of the United Nations building in the capital, Abuja, in August 2011, which killed 21 people.
In addition to being labeled foreign terrorist organizations, Boko Haram and Ansaru also were named to a list of specially designated global terrorist groups under federal law. The two designations mean that business and financial transactions with the organizations are blocked.
"By cutting these terrorist organizations off from U.S. financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north," Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, said in a statement.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the lawmakers that the government of Nigeria needs to not only stop Boko Haram's attacks, but address long-standing complaints about government corruption and unfairness that attracts disaffected youth in northern Nigeria to the militant groups. Both citizens and security forces have been attacked, yet she said the U.S. remains concerned that some heavy-handed Nigerian security forces have committed human rights violations in response to Boko Haram.
The Obama administration has urged Nigeria to develop a comprehensive approach to address the threat by creating a more professional security force, meeting the economic needs of the people in northern Nigeria, adhering to rule of law and government accountability.
Nigerian Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke said in a statement that the U.S. action will "assist this nation to deal with these renegades."
But Bashir Muhammad, who works with a non-governmental organization in Kano, worried that the U.S. action could embolden over-zealous Nigerian security officers to arrest noncombatants.
"I am in support of the action taken by the Department of State," he said. "My fear is that may be innocent people can be victims of this action."
Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja and Ibrahim Garba in Kano contributed to this report.