CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia said Wednesday that it was taking steps to ban as a terrorist organization Boko Haram, the militant group that kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament that a ban would be consistent with the actions of allies including the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
"The whole world, but certainly millions of Australians, have been absolutely transfixed and horrified by the hostage taking of some 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria," Abbott told Parliament.
"The government is taking steps to commence the process of banning Hoko Haram as a terrorist organization," he said.
The government can list a group as a terrorist organization for three years before such a listing must be reviewed. There are currently 18 groups listed. It is a criminal offense to associate with a listed terrorist organization, punishable by a maximum 25-year prison sentence.
As a member of the United Nations, Australia is obliged to freeze the assets of any listed terrorist organization.
Protesters marched through the streets of the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Tuesday to demand more government action to find and free the girls, who are believed to be held in the vast Sambisi forest, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the eastern town of Chibok, where they were seized from their school on April 15.
The abduction has spurred a global movement to secure the girls' release amid fears that they may be sold into slavery, married off to fighters or worse following a series of threats by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.