The United States Thursday labelled the acclaimed leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, and two others - Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi - global terrorists as part of its efforts to stem the tide of terrorism in Nigeria.
The militant religious sect was, however, not designated a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), as canvassed by some sections of the US government.
A statement Thursday by the State Department said the designation under Executive Order 13224, "blocks all of Shekau's, Kambar's and al-Barnawi's property interests subject to US jurisdiction and prohibits US persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals".
Until the designation, only Shekau's name was known to the Nigerian public, as other operatives of the sect had used aliases to conceal their identities.
Over 1,500 people have been killed by Boko Haram since 2009 when it began its bloody campaign against Western education in Nigeria and its bid for the Islamisation of the country.
The US statement described Shekau as the most visible leader of the militant group under whose leadership Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Northern Nigeria - its primary area of operation.
For al-Barnawi and Kambar, their designations were premised on their ties to Boko Haram and close links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb - a designated FTO.
The US government stated that the militant sect was credited with last year's attack on the United Nations building in Abuja that claimed at least 23 lives and wounded several people.
Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for the December 25, 2011 attack on St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, which the US government said killed at least 35 people and the January 20, 2012 attack on Kano, which claimed more than 180 lives.
The statement said the designation of the trio as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists" demonstrated the US's resolve to diminish the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks.
Nigeria's ambassador to the US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, while reacting to the Boko Haram members' designation as global terrorists said he was "sad but not surprised".
Adefuye, who said he was on his way to Capitol Hill for a meeting with US lawmakers on the issue when THISDAY called, said US officials had informed him of the development earlier and he had also informed Abuja about the possible designation of the affected individuals.
"I was informed in the past and we were told that it would be announced at the appropriate time by the US government," Adefuye said.
He had held series of meetings with senior US officials at the State Department, White House and with the US National Security Council over the last few months to stave off the designation of Boko Haram as an FTO, because Nigeria believes its consequences far outweigh its benefits to the nation.
Adefuye said the issue also came up during the last high-level meeting between US and Nigerian officials in Washington, adding that arguments were put forward against designating the group so as not to further enhance its image among terrorist organisations.
Acknowledging the US government's assistance to Nigeria in tackling the nation's security challenges, Adefuye said both countries would continue to work closely for their mutual interests.
THISDAY gathered yesterday that Republicans in Congress were also considering mounting more pressure on President Barack Obama to go beyond labelling the trio as terrorists and designate Boko Haram an FTO.
But sources said the Republican lobby might not get the support of Democrats in the Congress, as it could project the Obama administration's policy towards violent militancy in Africa as weak.
Analysts believe that the designation of the trio, which was done by the State Department, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury, will move the militant religious sect an inch closer to being designated an FTO.
Over the last few months, pressure was mounted on Secretary Hillary Clinton to designate Boko Haram an FTO. Last November, a 28-page report by the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence had outlined the threats posed to US homeland by the militant sect.
The report, titled, 'Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland', which was jointly signed by chairman of the committee, Rep. Patrick Meehan, and a ranking member, Rep. Jackie Speier, examined the evolution of Boko Haram, its potential, goals and intent and its capability to commit acts of terrorism against US interests and US homeland.
It also focused on Nigerian counter-terrorism capability, current US diplomatic efforts and the future of US engagement and assistance options in countering the threats of the sect.
The report had also warned that the US could not afford to miscalculate Boko Haram's intent and capability to strike the homeland, as its evolution had clearly illustrated that it was a group with fast growing ambitions.
It also charged US intelligence community to stay ahead of Boko Haram in an effort to thwart a potential attack against the country.
Boko Haram has also attracted the attention of academics and public policy commentators in the US. In May, 24 scholars in US wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton, urging her not to designate Boko Haram an FTO.
In reaction to the US government's decision yesterday, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Lateef Adegbite, cautioned the US against designating Boko Haram a terrorist group.
He sounded the note of caution in Abuja when he led Muslim leaders to a meeting with Vice-President Namadi Sambo.
"How do they know those who are Boko Haram and those who are not? The implication will be very serious. They may see someone like me with my long beard and think I am Boko Haram, so the implication will be very serious.
"We are appealing to them to give Nigeria more time to dialogue with our people and we hope we will re-integrate them into our fold," Adegbite said
Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, on his part, said it was too early to assess what the designation of Shekau and the two other Boko Haram leaders as global terrorist would achieve.
"I rather doubt if these three individuals have any significant amount of property in the United States," he said.
Campbell, who has consistently argued against designating Boko Haram an FTO said: "There is the political significance in that the US government has singled them out as global terrorists (But) what the consequences of that would be, I think, is too soon to say."