If the definition of the word “terrorist” has seemed somewhat flexible to many Americans in recent years, that state of befuddlement is shared by the U.S. government. The difficulties of defining a “terrorist” were on display on Capitol Hill when a high-ranking State Department official declared one of the most violent Islamist organizations in Africa to be a “terrorist” organization, while explaining that it was not a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
As Penny Starr recently wrote in an article for CNSNews, when it comes to the Nigerian Jihadist group Boko Haram, being a terrorist organization in a foreign country does not actually make that organization an FTO—at least in State Department logic. In Starr’s words:
The administration on June 21 listed three Boko Haram leaders as “specially designated global terrorists” (SDGTs) but stopped short to designating the group as an FTO under U.S. law, a step some Republican lawmakers have long been urging.
Individuals and entities listed as SDGTs have any assets they may hold in the U.S. frozen, and Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.
Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights on Tuesday, Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of African Affairs, spoke about the decision.
“Before we prescribe actions, it is important that we understand what Boko Haram is and what it is not,” he said in his prepared remarks. “The truth is that our understanding is limited at best.
The limitation of Carson’s understanding of the terrorist nature of Boko Haram became abundantly clear when Rep. Chris Smith (R–N.J.) confronted him by declaring the Jihadist group to be, in fact, a terrorist group. As Starr quotes Carson:
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Photo: In a Dec. 25, 2011 file photo, medical officials treat a victim of a bomb blast at a Catholic church near Nigeria's capital at Suleja General Hospital in Suleja, Nigeria. The radical Muslim sect, Boko Haram, claimed the attack and another bombing near a church in the city of Jos: AP Images