A 15-year-old Nigerian girl will appear on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to tell lawmakers the harrowing story of how she survived after three armed men belonging to the shadowy Islamist group Boko Haram killed her father and brother in front of her at point-blank range.
Deborah Peter was 12 when the horror unfolded inside her family’s home in Chibok. That was the same northern Nigerian village where members of Boko Haram — an anti-Western Islamist group that U.S. officials link to al Qaeda in Africa — kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls last month.
While she now lives with a foster family in the United States, Deborah says she is friends with many of the abducted girls, whose fates remain unknown and who will be the focus of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
“It is time for a more aggressive response to this al Qaeda-affiliated group, which threatens U.S. interests too,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, said in a statement Tuesday. “It is clear that more needs to be done.”
On Tuesday, the House passed a resolution condemning Boko Haram’s abduction of the schoolgirls, a move Mr. Royce cheered as showing the Obama administration that support exists for stronger action against Boko Haram.
The Obama administration has dispatched two unmanned surveillance drones to aid the embattled government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in attempting to locate the schoolgirls, whose kidnappings have triggered a worldwide outcry in recent weeks.
Boko Haram, which opposes Western education, has killed thousands of Nigerians in recent years and garnered global attention in 2011 when it claimed responsibility for an al Qaeda-style suicide car bombing that killed 21 people at a United Nations building in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja.
The attacks have escalated in frequency and lethality since. On Tuesday, a double car bombing at a packed bus terminal and market in Jos killed at least 118 people — an attack that Nigerian officials say bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram bombings.
Nigeria’s population is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims, and violence between the religious communities has a long history.
Republicans say the White House and State Department may have moved too slowly to publicly characterize Boko Haram as a terrorist organization after the 2011 Abuja bombing.
Many foreign policy and intelligence analysts in Washington argue that the group was not tied to al Qaeda but rather is more locally focused on domestic issues and targets in Nigeria. But some U.S. officials have long maintained the group shares weapons and fighters with designated foreign terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim jihadist group.
The State Department officially designated Boko Haram and its splinter group Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations in November 2013.
Pentagon officials said Monday that an agreement had been finalized between Washington and the Nigerian government over sharing intelligence.
British and Israeli officials say their nations have also committed teams of intelligence analysts to the effort, although there were reports Tuesday of technical problems with a spy plane being deployed by Britain to join the American assets already flying over Nigeria.