The United States has made good its promise to help Nigeria end terrorism by offering a $7m (N1.1bn) reward to persons with information on the whereabouts of the leader of militant islamist sect, Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau.
The $7m is part of the $23m posted on Monday by the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice programme in rewards to help track down four other leaders of militant groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb spreading terror in West Africa.
The bounties which the Federal Government described as a welcome development, acknowledged the growing links between AQIM and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which is under pressure from a military offensive.
A senior US State Department official, who made this known to the Agence France Presse on Monday said, “They’ve had a relationship for some time. They send people back and forth for training, they’ve done the provision of arms back and forth.
“The links are… not quite as solid as some of the other terrorist organisations,” he said. “Nonetheless, it’s a dangerous link and it’s something that we feel we should try and stop.”
Shekau had last week called on Islamists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to join the bloody fight to create an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Shekau was placed on a US blacklist last year, but Boko Haram has yet to be designated a foreign terrorist organisation – an absence which has raised eyebrows among regional experts.
The US department official also told the AFP that the “AQIM has been increasingly active in the North and West Africa. They’re one of the pre-eminent kidnap for ransom groups in the terrorist world now.”
“They cause us a great deal of concern. Anything that we can do naturally to cut down on the capabilities of AQIM, anything that we can do to get information on these people so that we can get them in front of a court… That is our goal,” he added.
The US has been increasingly worried about the spread of Islamist groups in Mali and across the vast and lawless Sahel since a military coup ousted the government in Bamako.
Former colonial power France had led a military offensive in January against the militants in Mali’s northern desert. The West African nation prepares for presidential elections on July 28.
There are fears however that the spread of militant groups risks destabilising the entire West African region.
In Abuja, the Federal Government through the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said the $7m bounty on Shekau was a positive development.
“We welcome any effort by the international community to support Nigeria’s effort at waging war against terrorism and its perpetrators. What this proves is that terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires global effort at combating it. Nigeria believes that the international community needs to come together to combat terrorism, “ Abati told journalists.