Who is Vernice Guthrie, and where was she at 11 a.m. West Africa Time on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011?
On that day, terrorist group Boko Haram carried out a suicide bombing at the main UN building in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 24 persons and injuring more than 100. Since then Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and other lawmakers have three times during hearings asked State Department officials whether Americans were in that building. Three times those officials have hedged.
The question is an important one because in 2011 Boko Haram was carrying out almost-daily attacks in Nigeria’s north, but then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resisted calls to designate the group a foreign terrorist organization. The FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice pleaded for that designation, which would have made it harder for Boko Haram to gain funding and traction, but Clinton’s State Department said the organization did not pose a threat to Americans.
Now, Boko Haram’s rise has led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the destruction of hundreds of churches, and the kidnapping this year of 300 schoolgirls and many others. Boko Haram last month imitated Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) by declaring a caliphate, and early this month moved into positions around Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State. Jacob Zenn, a Jamestown Foundation expert on the terrorist group, says Boko Haram may within months have in northern Nigeria “control similar to what the Islamic State has achieved in Iraq and Syria.”
In May 2013 WORLD filed with the U.S. Department of State a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking details about the UN bombing, but that department has not provided any information. WORLD also filed a FOIA request with the FBI, but it declined to provide information, citing an ongoing investigation. And that’s where American lawyer Vernice Guthrie, 37, comes in.
The Obama administration has concealed for more than three years the presence of any Americans in the building, but two of Guthrie’s close associates told me she was there when the bomb went off. I called Guthrie in Nigeria to get more details about the attack that could have left her a victim. She acknowledged that she has worked in that country for the past four years, but she hung up the phone when I asked about the bombing.
Zenn, author of the 2012 book Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The Prize in al-Qaeda’s Africa Strategy, says “If Hillary Clinton runs for president, people will consider this, to a lower degree, an issue similar to Benghazi. It’s something for which her team will likely have to offer an explanation.”