Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money donors appeared to thwart efforts to combat Boko Haram—efforts that might have saved thousands of lives
Just hope you’re never trapped inside the work of a suicide bomber. Victims say the first sensation is not the sound of a powerful explosion but the ear-splitting suck of air going out of the room, of every noise imaginable concentrated into a tiny, painful point in the middle of your skull—all before the terrifying and truly deafening fright of the actual explosion. The force and flash will knock you to the floor, leave you breathless for minutes, sightless at least a bit longer, deaf for longer still, perhaps a lifetime, and forever traumatized. That’s if you survive, aren’t dismembered or diced fatally by a thousand shrapnel pricks. In the seconds after you realize you’ve just been bombed and become aware you are still breathing, you will have to live agonizing minutes of terror longer as you learn whether others you know survived. And that’s before the building around you starts to collapse.
The bombing of the UN headquarters in Nigeria happened just this way. On a sultry Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, at 10:30 in the morning, a Honda CR-V with tags from Nigeria’s northern Kano State tore through two separate gates of the compound in the capital, Abuja, and drove its way into the sprawling five-story building where it exploded. Glass shattered and the concrete structure’s first three floors collapsed, plunging dozens of staff members plus the suicide bomber and his car into the basement below.
Fire erupted from the car, soon a cindered mass of metal. Flames rose from the basement, blackening the building from bottom to top as smoke filled the neighborhood, which included the American embassy and other diplomatic posts. Rescue workers arrived, followed by police and soldiers. They flung ladders into a gaping hole, rescued bloodied survivors, and dragged them over bloodied steps to a grassy lawn strewn with body parts. At one point rescuers hauled over a nearby construction crane to assist fire crews trying to reach survivors on the upper floors.
“All the people in the basement were killed. Their bodies are littered all over the place,” said Ocilaje Michael, one of 400 UN staff members working in the complex, which also housed 26 affiliated humanitarian and development agencies.
Hours later, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack, its first on an international target. As word spread among the diplomatic community of an American who survived the attack inside the UN building, where she worked, many expected the United States and others to take stepped-up precautions to protect their own citizens and to combat terrorists in Nigeria. By all outward appearances, that’s not what happened.
The State Department never made public the presence of Vernice Guthrie, an African-American attorney who represented the American Bar Association in Nigeria before she took an assignment with the UN Development Program. And what followed the bombing were months stretching into years of uncharacteristic foot-dragging by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Amid interventionist stances on Libya, Syria, and other hot spots, Clinton resisted the pleas of lawmakers and the recommendations of both high-level officials and Pentagon brass to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization under U.S. law.
Five years and many Freedom of Information Act filings later—including four filed by WORLD—no clear explanation exists for Clinton’s refusal to designate a terror group a terror group during her tenure as secretary of state. Further, given the controversy that’s unfolded over her decision, the State Department appears determined not to divulge documents pertaining to that decision—and some documents may be lost to Clinton’s now infamous in-home server.
While the full truth may never come to light, what’s at issue are long-standing Clinton ties to controversial Nigerian businessmen—billionaires who have donated money toward both Clintons’ presidential campaigns and the Clinton Foundation—who could benefit in seeing Boko Haram proliferate. Knowing whether she placed financial ties and influence peddling ahead of national security interests during that time period is more urgent than ever, now that the former secretary of state could become the commander in chief.
“We know Hillary Clinton is both a centrist and a hawk. Yet this became another example of her doing something that’s simply out of character, dragging her feet on confronting a terrorist group,” said Peter Schweizer, a former Hoover Institute fellow, whose 2015 bestseller, Clinton Cash, became the basis for a documentary premiering in May.
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Mindy Belz and J. C. Derrick