By Jamie Crawford
The United States has designated as terrorists three senior members of Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group in Nigeria whose attacks and those of its associates have left more than a thousand dead.
The State Department announced the designation Thursday of Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi as "specially designated global terrorists" under the authority of an existing presidential executive order.
Shekau is the most visible leader of Boko Haram, the State Department said, while al-Barnawi and Kambar maintain close links to al Qaeda affiliates as part of their role in the group.
"These designations demonstrate the United States' resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks," the State Department said in a written statement announcing the designation. "The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury."
From its base in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has waged a violent campaign of bombings of Christian churches in Nigeria that have killed hundreds and wounded many more. The group is also blamed for an attack on a United Nations building in the Nigerian capital of Abuja last year that killed at least 23 people.
The group, whose name means "Western education is forbidden," has referred to itself as the "Nigerian Taliban." It seeks to overthrow the Nigerian government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law.
Obama administration officials have expressed concerns that the group is beginning to cooperate with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - the Northern Africa based affiliate of the group - and another al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia, al Shabaab, to target American interests in Africa.
The announcement drew criticism from some on Capitol Hill who feel the State Department should have gone further by designating Boko Haram as a whole a terrorist entity.
"The legal ramifications of this designation only affect dealings with three designated individuals, and not the wider Boko Haram organization, which is growing in intent, capability and targeting capacity," Rep. Peter King, R-New York, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a written statement. "A conservative estimate of Boko Haram's size would be a couple hundred, making three members symbolic, but not sufficient."
"We're continuing to look at the question of a broader designation," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday. "Boko Haram is at the moment a loosely constructed group attached to trying to address grievances in the north (of Nigeria). There are different views within the group, and we're continuing to look at that."
The terrorist designation blocks all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction of the three individuals named, and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with, or for the benefit of, the three.