- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nigeria, a key U.S. oil supplier, is under severe threat from Islamic terrorists, but the democratic West African nation “is not going to collapse, implode or go away,” said a top American diplomat who has served as ambassador to three African countries.

Johnnie Carson, now assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told a recent congressional hearing that the Nigerian government must adopt a stronger strategy to combat the al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram jihadists in the northern part of the nation.

Boko Haram terrorists have killed hundreds of Nigerians since the group was founded in 2001. They have deployed suicide bombers, destroyed government buildings with explosives and attacked Christians and fellow Muslims who oppose their use of violence to promote Islamic law.

They thrive because of the weakness of the national government, Mr. Carson told the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“The inability of the government to address the needs of the people, to grow the economy and to create jobs has generated a sense of hopelessness among many,” Mr. Carson said. “It also helped fill a popular negative [belief] that the government simply does not care.”

Boko Haram is roughly divided into one group that focuses on discrediting the national government and a second that carries out the terrorist attacks, Mr. Carson said.

The terrorist wing has claimed responsibilities for kidnapping Westerners and bombing U.N. facilities in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

“They also bombed churches to aggravate ethnic and religious tensions in an attempt to sow chaos and increase their public profile,” Mr. Carson said.

Mr. Carson — who has served as ambassador to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe — called on the Nigerian government to confront Boko Haram but avoid civilian casualties. The government also must address the social and economic problems on which “Boko Haram thrives,” he said.

Nigeria faces significant challenges, but it is not going to collapse, implode or go away,” he said.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the commission, noted that Nigeria accounts for about 20 percent of all oil imported to the United States. “Nigeria’s stability is of critical interest for the U.S. economy and American policy interests,” he said.

Trial postponed

A federal judge postponed the start of the trial of a man accused of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States to give defense attorneys more time to review a report on their client’s mental health.

U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan moved the trial from October to Jan. 7 and scheduled a three-day hearing beginning Oct. 22 on defense motions to dismiss charges against Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds an Iranian passport.

Mr. Arbabsiar is accused of plotting to plant a bomb in a Washington restaurant to kill Ambassador Adel al-Jubier. The FBI arrested him at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in September.

Defense attorneys claimed that Mr. Arbabsiar is mentally ill and want the judge to suppress statements he made to the FBI admitting his role in the $1.5 million plot, which, authorities say, was directed by Iran.

Bahrain hosts iftar

The first Jewish ambassador of an Arab nation hosted a Iftar dinner with Christians and Muslims to honor the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Ambassador Houda Nonoo’s guests at the dinner last week included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the Catholic archbishop of Washington.

“Events like this offer the opportunity for a compelling example of how honest dialogue can contribute to further understanding and reconciliation,” she said.

Mrs. Nonoo, who is also Bahrain’s first female ambassador to the United States, served as head of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society before King Hamid named her ambassador in 2008.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.