Nigerian Christians are under attack. On Christmas day, the Islamist group Boko Haram targeted churches in Nigeria's capital, killing 40 innocent people. Boko Haram -- literally "Western Education is a Sin " -- opposes whatever comes from the West, such as education, culture and science, and considers Christians as an obstacle to building an Islamic caliphate.

Boko Haram has recently increased its attacks against Christian Nigerians, who make up 48.2% of the country's population. Last November, of Boko Haram killed 150 Christians and bombed 11 churches. "It was a direct attack against Christians. Members of Boko Haram asked: 'Are you a Christian or a Muslim' If you said you were a Christian, they killed you. […] I saw someone who was slaughtered like a lamb in front of a church,"said a representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

According to the Nigerian newspaper, Sunday Tribune, Nigerian intelligence believes that the intensification in the activities of Boko Haram is aimed at putting the group in advantageous position to secure the leadership of "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." A report in the hands of the Nigerian government allegedly confirms that after the killing of the U.S.-born Al-Qaeda top leader ,Anwar Al-Awlaki, in an air strike in Yemen by a joint CIA-U.S. military operation, Al-Qaeda is seeking to relocate from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa.

"International and local intelligence agencies indicate that the activities of Boko Haram in recent weeks were aimed at getting the attention of the Al-Qaeda organizations and securing the headquarters," the Sunday Tribune reports, adding that Al-Awlaki's replacement will be chosen from among the African terrorist group that have the most impressive record of terror acts. The Nigerian newspapers mention that several terrorist groups based on the African continent hope to take over Al-Qaeda's leadership to be able to access more financial aid. "The contest is hot," states the Sunday Tribune.

According to Nigerian media, despite the competition, Boko Haram has strong ties to[N the Africa-based Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [North Africa],and with the Shabaab rebel group in Somalia. As this alliance could transform the central belt of Africa into an immense operational ground for terrorist operations, it is -- or should be -- of major concern.

Washington does appear to be worried about Boko Haram's activities, probably fearing that the Nigerian group might attack U.S. interests. Recently, The Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security had a hearing on emerging threats to the U.S. posed by Boko Haram. The subcommittee stressed that Boko Haram has evolved quickly, and can be a threat to U.S. interests and to the U.S. homeland. "Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Shabaab," the subcommittee concluded, adding that "Boko Haram's evolution in targeting and tactics closely tracks that of other Al Qaeda affiliates that have targeted the U.S. Homeland".

The subcommittee further revealed the need for the collection of more intelligence on Boko Haram, as the U.S. Intelligence Community has until now wrongly underestimated the capabilities of the Nigerian terrorist group to target the U.S. homeland . The U.S – commented the subcommittee - incorrectly assessed that Boko Haram had only regional ambitions and that threats against the U.S. homeland were merely "aspirational." Nigerian sources confirm, however, that if Boko Haram will not be stopped in time, it could shake the entire African region, targeting U.S. embassies and American civilians, and that it could recruit can recruit Boko Haram's Nigerian sympathizers in the U.S.. Last August, Boko Haram had already claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a U.N. headquarters in Nigeria that killed 23 people.

In light of Boko Haram's violent escalation, it is urgent first of all officially to designate it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The U.S. should also cooperate with the government of Nigeria to counter Boko Haram. The U.S. security subcommittee further recommended that it is especially necessary to increase the U.S. Intelligence Community collection of human intelligence on Boko Haram, by gathering information on the ground through interpersonal contacts with Boko Haram's members the better to combat the threat posed by the terrorist group to both Nigerian and U.S. interests.

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