Boko Harem combatant

Federal prosecutor, W. Anders Folk, advises the U.S. to take al Shabaab’s threats to target the U.S. seriously. Folk stressed the fact that the terrorist groups al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the greater al Qaeda organization embrace a common ideology – an aversion for the U.S.

Folk goes on to add that the terrorist group’s ideology “is almost word for word similar to what we heard from al Qaeda pre-9/11 and what we have heard post-9/11. What we hear is an ideology that endorses murder of innocent civilians. We see al Shabaab training their recruits in tactics and techniques similar to what recruits learn in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Moreover, the House Homeland Security Committee has issued a report which affirms that al Shabaab-related federal indictments “account for the largest number and significant upward trend in homegrown terrorism cases” filed by the Department of Justice since 2009.  And, according to The Investigative Project on Terrorism at least 38 of these cases have been left unsealed.

In addition to that, Folk emphasized the fact that al Shabaab’s power-seizing animus is not limited to Somalia. Despite claims that al Shabaab is too small to present a problem to the U.S., Folk points out that many people were similarly persuaded regarding al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  But, as of Christmas, 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted a suicide bombing on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, estimations of al Shabaab’s potential have changed.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area, for all practical purposes, functions as command central for al Shabaab operations in the U.S.  According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, al Shabaab in the area routinely travel back to Somalia for training.  Recruitment efforts include using Internet videos, with the purpose of glamorizing the movement. While jubilant in the deaths of martyrs and striving for jihad, they excoriate their enemies in Somalia and the West.

Notwithstanding the U.S. government’s efforts against al Shabaab, the terrorist group shows no signs of abatement. Recruitment in the U.S. has been boosted by the efforts of senior commander, Omar Hammami, a Muslim convert from Alabama who Folk says “is a great PR tool to recruit Westerners.”  Folk goes on to say that the message being sent is that “You too can come over to Somalia and enjoy great success and power like I did.

You can speak English and that’ll work just fine.” Additionally, the U.S. provides fertile ground for recruitment due to the fact that the Minneapolis region provides a significant source of personnel for the group. Indeed, those recruits out of Minneapolis have been engaged in “all aspects” of al Shabaab operations, which include suicide bombings and combat.  Continuing enlistment endeavors in the U.S. can also be used as a strategy towards another goal of al Shabaab – that of a strike on the U.S.

One of Africa’s most dreaded terrorist groups, al Shabaab controls much of southern Somalia and is effectively at war against the transitional government therein.  It is also in opposition against the interim government’s Ethiopian supporters and that has been the case since 2006.

In the group’s infancy, it was part of the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union. The Islamic Courts Union was in control of Somalia before the country was invaded by Ethiopian forces. Following the official formation as al Shabaab, the group aligned itself with al Qaeda.  Since that alignment, al Shabaab has been active in suicide bombings and further recruitment of jihadists from various parts of the world. They have also have spread into Yemen and Kenya.

Al Shabaab has pledged to subject Kenya to “endless war”, according to Jihad Watch. This mission is based on the Quaranic scripture which states, “Until worship is for Allah alone” (Qur’an 2:193, 8:39).  Other activities of the terrorist group include stoning people to death, slicing off hands and prohibiting television and music.

Recently, al Shabaab changed their name (which means “lads”) to Imaarah Islamiya.  The new name, which was reportedly adopted due to the aging of the group, means “the Ilamic Authority.”

Similarly, another African-based terrorist group, Boko Haram, according to a report by the U.S. Representatives Subcommittee on Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence, has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to the U.S. The report reveals that Boko Haram “has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level” with al Qaeda. The report emphasizes that heed should be taken in view of  the group’s rapid progression.

As is the case with al Shabaab, though Boko Haram’s activities have been largely confined to African countries, the group’s size and scale should not lead the West into a false sense of security.  Both al Qaeda and the Taliban, as newly formed groups, were viewed by the intelligence community as regionally focused and therefore not a threat to the West.

Boko Haram, which literally means “Western education is forbidden,” uses as its official name “Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal Jihad” and that is translated to mean “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad.”  Interestingly enough, when founded, in the mid-1990s, violence wasn’t part of Boko Haram’s vision. It was not, in fact, until Mohammed Yusuf, a Nigerian civil service employee took over at the helm of the group.  At this point, they began referring to themselves as the Nigerian Taliban.  Adopting a rustic lifestyle, they established a camp in a remote area of the northeast part of the country.

Over the past couple of years, however, a significant surge in the frequency and level of violence of Boko Haram attacks has occurred. Aside from the recent Christmas bombings, another example of this was seen on Aug. 26 when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) into U.N. headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

The attack left 23 dead and more than 80 others injured. Responsibility for the bombing, which was one of the deadliest in the U.N’s history, was claimed by Boko Haram. While this attack occurred within Nigerian borders, it was the first time Boko Haram had targeted an international, non-Nigerian entity.

So, Boko Haram has experienced rapid advancement since the days of launching attacks with a few sticks of dynamite.  And, it has been an unusually swift progression.

In the report, the U.S. Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence compiled the following summary and recommendations regarding Boko Haram:


1. Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to U.S. interests  and the U.S. Homeland.

2.  Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab.

3.  Boko Haram’s evolution in targeting and tactics closely tracks that of other al Qaeda affiliates that have targeted the U.S. Homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

4. The U.S. Intelligence Community largely underestimated the potential for al Qaeda affiliate groups to target the U.S. Homeland, wrongly assessing they had only regional ambitions and threats against the U.S. Homeland were merely “aspirational.”

5.  The United States should work with the Government of Nigeria to build counterterrorism and intelligence capability to effectively counter Boko Haram.


1. Do Not Underestimate Boko Haram’s Intent and Capability to Attack the U.S. Homeland:  As this report makes clear, the U.S. Intelligence Community has recently underestimated the intent and capability of terrorist groups to strike the homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These underestimations had near deadly consequences on Christmas Day 2009 over Detroit and in May 2010 in Times Square.

2. Determine Whether Boko Haram Should be Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO): The Secretary of State should conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. 

Following the Boko Haram attack on the United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, we wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an investigation to determine whether FTO designation was necessary.  In light of Boko Haram’s continued escalation, FTO designation may  be required to provide our intelligence and law enforcement communities the tools necessary to ensure Boko Haram does not attack U.S. interests and the U.S. Homeland.

3. Increase U.S. Intelligence Community Collection on Boko Haram: The U.S.Intelligence Community must increase its intelligence collection on Boko Haram, including human intelligence (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT). It must also enhance its liaison relationship with Nigerian security services and help build their capacity to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram to Nigerian and U.S. interests.

4. Conduct Outreach With Nigerian Diaspora Communities in the United States: The U.S. government should develop relationships with Nigerian diaspora communities in the United States to learn more about Boko Haram and the factors driving its evolution, intent, capability, and targeting. Through familial and personal relationships, diaspora communities in the United States provide a unique and invaluable perspective on their home country.

5. Increase U.S. Government Support for Nigerian Counterterrorism and Intelligence Programs: The U.S. Government should increase its support for programs that enhance the ability of Nigerian security forces to more effectively target Boko Haram and counter its evolution. The U.S. and Nigerian governments should also work more closely to increase intelligence collection.