CAPE TOWN – A U.S. Congress push to designate Nigerian militant group Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organisation” would not help efforts to start dialogue and does not have Nigeria’s backing, its defence minister said on Wednesday.
Boko Haram, which wants an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has been linked to 700 killings in Africa’s most populous nation over the last 18 months. Its enemies accuse it of links to al Qaeda.
“We are looking at a dialogue to establish the grievances of the Boko Haram. I think the attempt to declare them an international terrorist organization will not be helpful,” Defence Minister Bello Mohammed said on the sidelines of a meeting between South Africa and Nigeria in Cape Town.
Nigeria held indirect talks with Boko Haram in March, but discussions broke down quickly and the militant group said it could not trust the government. It is unclear whether government efforts to resume links have borne fruit since.
Pressure has been growing on the Obama administration to formally designate Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organisation.”
Scott Brown, a Republican senator from Massachusetts, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last week, urging her to designate the group as a terrorist organization.
U.S. Representatives Peter King and Patrick Meehan, chairmen of the House Homeland Security Committee and its counterterrorism subcommittee, released a letter they sent to Clinton suggesting the administration was moving too slowly.
Boko Haram, which means “western education is sinful”, has claimed responsibility for months of attacks in northern Nigeria. Its attacks have mainly targeted the police, churches and outdoor drinking areas.
“Boko Haram is not operating in America and America is not operating in Nigeria,” said Mohammed. “They are not involved in our internal security operations, so I don’t think it would be of much significance really in that respect. But we don’t support it.”