Wanted Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, could be tried for terrorism in the United States or in courts of partner nations if caught, the U.S. Acting Assistant Director of Diplomatic Security Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, Kurt Rice, has said.
The joint tele-news conference coincided with President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval of the proscription of Boko Haram and Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan and the gazetting of an order declaring the group’s activities illegal and acts of terrorism.Rice whose country on Monday placed $23m bounties on five leaders of terrorist groups in West Africa, including Shekau, spoke at a joint tele-news conference with David Gilmour, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.
During the conference which was aired to audiences in Abuja, Lagos, Accra in Ghana, Dakar in Senegal and Niamey in Niger Republic, Rice also explained that the highest bounty of $7m was placed on Shekau because the US had “seen increases in the terrorist capabilities of the Boko Haram” under his leadership.
Rice said the major aim of placing bounties was to bring the terrorists to account in courts in the US or before courts of partner nations where they (terrorists) operate.
“The whole exercise is to bring these people before American courts or of partner nations whether it be in Nigeria; whether it be anywhere in North or West Africa,’’ he said when asked where the terrorists would be likely tried.
He also explained that the intent of Washington in offering the rewards through the Justice Programme was “to work with our Nigerian partners to try and make (Nigeria) a more stable and secure area.”
Rice, who expressed the hope that the capture of Shekau would “check” the deadly attacks by Boko Haram in the Northern part of Nigeria, added that the US had through the Justice programme paid out $125m (about N19.8bn) to more than 80 people, who provided information leading to the arrests of terrorists since 1984.
“The fact is that this is a shared fight against terrorism. This is one tool we have against terrorism and we find that overtime it has been enormously effective and it has saved a lot of lives and we want to continue doing that,”he said.
But he stressed that the US would carefully vet information provided by individuals on the whereabouts of the Boko Haram leader. He added that persons who have links with Shekau or any terrorist organisation who provide information about him would not benefit from the $7m bounty.
Rice said, “The Reward for Justice programme is meant to get information from people who have been horrified by terrorist acts worldwide and want to prevent this type of thing.
“We don’t pay rewards to terrorist organisations. The fact is that we are looking for information and when we get the information we will carefully vet it before reward is ever paid out: to be absolutely sure that the people who are worthy of the awards are not connected with terrorist organisations and they don’t ever get a cent of this money.”
Also speaking, Gilmour ruled out suggestions that the $7m (N1.1bn) bounty offered on the head of Shekau could be counter-productive to Nigeria government amnesty offer for the insurgents.
Gilmour reiterated the US position that security-based solution was not the only way to address the current security challenges in Nigeria.
He said Washington recognises that in Northern Nigeria, there are legitimate grievances such as social inequality and youth unemployment.
Gilmour therefore urged “the Nigerian government to take seriously those grievances of the general population of Northern Nigeria.’’
To security operatives, currently conducting military operations in three North Eastern states, under a state of emergency, he advised them to try and build the confidence of the population to keep them safe.
He said, “We’ve made the point that security forces particularly need to build the confidence of the population. This is something that we’ve seen around the world with insurgencies and these types of situations.
“The population needs to have the confidence in the government to keep them safe and the government needs to be responsive to the needs of the people.”
Under the latest reward programme, the US offered $5m reward on Al-Qaeda’s Mokhtar Belmokhtar, accused of being responsible for the Algerian gas plant attack that killed three Americans and 34 other foreigners in January.
An additional $5m was offered to help arrest AQIM leader Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, believed to have been involved in the murder of an elderly French hostage in Niger in 2010.
The reward programme also targeted Malik Abou Abdelkarim, a senior fighter with AQIM, and Oumar Ould Hamaha, the spokesman for Mali’s Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.
But as the US defended the bounty on Shekau, the Northern Elders Forum argued that it could complicate issues relating to the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Spokesman for the NEF, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, on Tuesday.
Explaining the implication of the action, Abdullahi said, “I still believe that the insurgents have concentrated on our national institutions so far as far as I can analyse. If there is sufficient lobby or pressure for outside powers to come in for whatever reason, then perhaps, this issue is likely to be a little bit more complicated than it is.
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, has said that the proscription of Boko Haram and Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan has been gazetted as the Terrorism (Prevention) (Proscription Order) Notice 2013.
He said in a statement on Tuesday that the President’s approval of the order was in pursuant to Section 2 0f the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (As Amended).
According to Abati, the approval by Jonathan officially brings the activities of both groups within the purview of the Terrorism Prevention Act and any persons associated with the two groups can now be legally prosecuted and sentenced.