- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram poses an “emerging threat” to the United States and is set to join other al Qaeda affiliates in plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland, a congressional panel said Wednesday.

U.S. intelligence agencies must not underestimate Boko Haram’s ability and desire to strike directly at the United States, a mistake they made with al Qaeda affiliates in both Pakistan and Yemen in recent years, a House Homeland Security subcommittee said in a bipartisan staff report published at a hearing Wednesday.

“The U.S. intelligence community must not underestimate Boko Haram’s intent and capability to strike U.S. interests and most importantly, the U.S. homeland,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

The report noted that Boko Haram has begun to employ hallmark al Qaeda tactics in oil-rich Nigeria. The terrorists have used truck bombs, coordinated multiple suicide attacks and released martyrdom videos.

There have also been increasingly close connections between some Boko Haram leaders and al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa, like al Shabab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, it said.

In August, Boko Haram attacked the U.N. headquarters in the capital Abuja with a suicide truck-bomb, killing 21 people in its first attack against an international target. It has also threatened Nigeria’s oil infrastructure.

The U.N. attack and reports of links between Boko Haram and other Islamist terror groups “may signal a shift [from a purely national or regional strategy] towards a more global militant ideology,” said California Rep. Jackie Speier of California, the senior Democrat on the subcommittee.

The rapid evolution in tactics and targets by Boko Haram “mirrors” the trajectory taken by other al Qaeda affiliates, which have attempted to strike directly at the United States.

Mr. Meehan noted that the so-called “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 was linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He added that the failed truck-bombing of Times Square in New York in May 2010 was plotted by a Pakistani-American trained by the al Qaeda-linked Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

“There is little evidence at this moment to suggest that Boko Haram is planning attacks against the homeland,” said Mr. Meehan.

However, he added, that a “lack of evidence does not mean that it cannot happen.”

Mr. Meehan noted that U.S. intelligence agencies have “very recently been wrong about al Qaeda affiliates’ intent and capability to strike the homeland with nearly deadly consequences.”

“We underestimate emerging terror groups at our peril,” he said.

A well-coordinated series of attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria could “completely [cut] off oil production in the West African nation and cause a “spike in oil prices worldwide and soaring domestic gas prices,” the report warned

Nigeria is the world’s fourth largest oil producer and accounted for eight percent of U.S. oil imports last year.

Ms. Speier cautioned that little is known about Boko Haram in part because of its “rapid rise.” She urged U.S. agencies to redouble their efforts to find out about its “membership strength and leadership cadre,” as well as “the true nature of its ties to other groups.”

She called for increased counter-terrorism cooperation with the Nigerian government and “outreach to the Nigerian people, especially the Muslim community,” to help U.S. officials “better understand the appeal of a group like Boko Haram.”

About half of Nigeria’s 155 million people are Muslims and 40 percent of the population is under 40 years old.