The U.S. State Department formally designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist group Wednesday, making it a crime for Americans to provide “material support” to the group and enabling banks to freeze U.S. assets of the Islamist militants believed to be behind grisly mass killings across Nigeria’s northern region.
The label was also applied to Ansaru, a Boko Haram offshoot.
Boko Haram, which roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden,” has been linked to thousands of deaths since it launched a violent campaign against the government in 2009 in the mostly Muslim north. Last month, the Sunni militant group was linked to the killings of 19 motorists who were stopped along a highway under the guise of a military checkpoint. Weeks earlier, Boko Haram militants reportedly killed up to 50 students at an agricultural college because the academic institution clashed with the fundamentalists’ values.
The Nigerian government has waged a lengthy and often brutal anti-insurgency effort that has gained traction in recent months. But U.S. observers have raised concerns over the group’s influence and its potential to link up with al-Qaeda’s North African wing or Somalia’s al-Shabab, the group behind the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September.
“These designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north,” Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a statement.