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Boko Haram and the Islamic State

30/03/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

Boko Haram, the militant Nigerian group, has announced it is allying with the Islamic State (IS). The pledge was made in an audio message, appearing to be a recording of the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, which was posted online on March 7, 2015.

Monitoring news website SITE quoted the recording as saying: “We announce our allegiance to the Caliph… and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity.”[1]

There have been increasing signs that Shekau, has been seeking closer ties with IS. He sent greetings and praise to the IS leader and has mentioned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in videos, but stopped short of pledging formal allegiance. In August 2014 he followed the IS example and declared his own caliphate.

On March 12, 2015, the Islamic State accepted the pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram, according to an audiotape purportedly from its spokesman. “We give you glad tidings today about the expansion of the Caliphate to West Africa, for the Caliph, may Allah preserve him, accepted the pledge of allegiance of our brothers in Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa Wal Jihad [Boko Haram],” Adnani said, according to SITE’s translation.  “We congratulate the Muslims and our mujahideen brothers in West Africa for their pledge of allegiance, and we congratulate them for their joining the march of the Caliphate.”  Adnani goes on to say that those who are “unable to immigrate to Iraq, Sham, Yemen, the Peninsula, and Khorasan,” may not be “unable [to immigrate to] Africa."

IS’s Adnani said Muslims must support Boko Haram in West Africa, and claimed that the Islamic State was growing in strength and expanding. “Our caliphate is resisting and it is advancing in the right direction. We are fighting the crusaders and the rafidah (Shiites) and day by day the Islamic State is becoming strong,” he said.

The IS group has already received pledges of allegiances from militants in North African countries such as Egypt (Ansar Beit al Maqdis) and Algeria, and in Libya. Boko Haram, however, is one of the most organized groups to join forces, after running a bloody campaign for territory in the West African country since 2009.

On 18 January 2015, an Arabic-language Twitter account purporting to be the official outlet for a new Boko Haram media group called Al-Urwah al-Wuthqa was launched and immediately promoted by key pro-IS media operatives. Since then, the group has used the feed to publish a stream of propaganda, including several new videos. This indicates that the group may have been assisted by IS media operatives, or influenced by IS in an indirect way.


The charismatic Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri,Nigeriain  2002. He set up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. Many poor Muslim families from acrossNigeria, as well as neighboring countries, enrolled their children at the school. But Boko Haram was not only interested in education. Its political goal was to create an Islamic state, and the school became a recruiting ground for jihadis.

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president. [5]

The group launched a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in 2009 to further its goal of creating an Islamic state. This led to shoot-outs on Maiduguri's streets. Hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed and thousands of residents fled the city. Nigeria's security forces eventually seized the group's headquarters, capturing its fighters and killing the leader Mohammed Yusuf. The security forces declared Boko Haram finished, but its fighters regrouped under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau, and have stepped up their insurgency.[6]

Amid growing concern about the escalating violence, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May2013 in the three northern states where Boko Haram is the strongest - Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

In 2013, theUSdesignated Boko Haram a terrorist organization, amid fears that it had developed links with other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to wage a global jihad.

Boko Haram came to prominence on a worldwide scale when it kidnapped 275 girls from a school inBornoStatein April 2014.

In August 2014, Shekau declared a caliphate in areas under Boko Haram's control - and praised Iraqi national Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph (ruler) of Muslims worldwide.[7]

The conflict inNigeriahas killed more than 13,000 people since 2009 and the fighting has displaced more than 1.5 million people.

The regional coalition against Boko Haram

In 2015, Boko Haram has extended its operations into neighboring countries and fought fierce battles with the countries' armies in southernNigerand northern Cameroon, near Nigeria's borders.

As a response, a regional task force was formed to fight the terror organization. The military chiefs of Niger, Chad, and Cameron met in the Chadian capital N'Djamena to finalize strategy for the 8,700-strong task force of troops from the African coalition.  "There are initiatives by our countries to make sure Boko Haram doesn't get out of control but we have a deadline of end-March to put the joint force into practice," said Colonel Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of documentation and military intelligence of Niger's armed forces.[8]

The latest regional intervention comes amid a spike in attacks by the group. In recent years, Boko Haram fighters used the remote areas inside the far north of Cameroon as rear bases. Cameron has stepped up its activities since July 2014, when Boko Haram attacked Kolotafa, the hometown of its deputy prime minister, killing dozens and kidnapping his wife. The Cameroonian government has boosted its security forces in northern Cameroon from 700 to around 7,000. “We have to do whatever it takes to make sure the sect does not occupy any town in Cameroon,” said Colonel Joseph Nouma, in charge of Operation Alpha, the mission against Boko Haram.[9]

Boko Haram has carried out a series of kidnappings in Cameroon, including a group of Chinese engineers taken last year, as well as French tourists. It seems money was the motivation as multimillion dollar ransom payments were handed over to Boko Haram. The Cameroonian military response has clearly been hurting Boko Haram and Abubakar Shekau, has released a video calling on President Paul Biya to stop "your evil plot" or "taste what has befallen Nigeria".[10]

Another senior Cameroonian military figure said they were attempting to choke off Boko Haram’s revenues, including the trade in fuel with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Chad has made a particularly large contribution to the four-nation campaign, flushing Boko Haram fighters out of several parts of Borno state in Nigeria. Since February 2015, Chadian forces have made incursions into Nigeria to push back the Boko Haram fighters, hundreds of whom have been killed. The Chadian army announced that they had seized control of the town of Dikwa, which is about 50km southwest of the Nigerian border.[11]

Niger's police spokesman has reported the deaths of 513 Boko Haram members there. Nigerhas also lost 24 soldiers in operations that have also killed at least one civilian and wounded 38 troops, he said.[12]

For Chad, Nigerand Cameroon, defeating Boko Haram is crucial for several reasons:[13]

  • There is the fear that the group, if left unchecked, will expand its area of control and become a bigger threat for the entire region.
  • Five years of violence has cut of much of the trade between these nations and Nigeria, Africa's largest economy.

In recent weeks, the Nigerian military, aided by the regional alliance, has been slowly taking back territory from Boko Haram. There are also reports that foreign mercenaries, including from South Africa, have joined Nigeria's fight against the militants.  Government spokesman, Mike Omeri, told the BBC this was not true, but that there were foreigners training troops on how to use new weapons.[14]

South Africa

According to the BBC, arms, including  helicopter gunships, have recently been purchased from South Africa. But the South African government is concerned that South African mercenaries have begun working in Nigeria. A spokesman at the state security ministry in Pretoria said he suspected that the men were using training as cover, but were actually deployed in a fighting capacity, which would be illegal.[15]

President Goodluck Jonathan said this week that two companies were providing “trainers and technicians” to help Nigerian forces. He did not name the firms, or the nationalities, or give numbers.[16]

The Western support

France - Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian assured Nigeria that France will increase its West African counter insurgency forces to support the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram in West Africa.[17]

Previously, the roughly 3,000 troops had largely tracked al Qaeda-linked militants spanning across the Sahara from Mauritania in the west to southern Libya in the east.[18]

The U. S. -  The United States announced that it would seek to revive a training program with the Nigerian military that was pulled last year after a dispute over weapons procurement. The US government had committed $40m over three years on equipment and training assistance to Nigeria, Chad and other African countries in their efforts to fight Boko Haram.

The United States supports the creation of a West African force of up to 10,000 troops to fight Boko Haram. The 54-nation African Union has approved the force and has asked the United Nations to endorse it urgently.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Amanda J. Dory, said on a visit to Cameroon that Washington would back a U.N. resolution. "The U.S. is providing diplomatic support in terms of engagement in the U.N. Security Council for the awaited resolution authorizing the deployment of a Multinational Joint Task Force by the African Union against Boko Haram," she told state radio.[19]

If approved, the new force would receive U.N. funding and would likely result in a bigger and better resourced operation than the offensive currently being mounted against the militants by Nigeria and its neighbors.


The alliance between Boko Haram and the Islamic State comes on the back of several setbacks for the Islamic State in Syria (Kobani), Iraq (Tikrit) and as US Security Council diplomats are drafting a resolution to shore up a regional force fighting Boko Haram.

A key factor for IS in this stage is how it can use the sympathy of other Islamist groups  to prove that it is not affected by the international coalition's war and that it is still capable of recruiting new members. Shekau is the first well-known jihadist leader to openly join Baghdadi and the alliance with Boko Haram is boosting Boko Haram's global profile.  

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his followers have pressed to garner the fealty of many existing jihadist groups, but failed to woo Al Qaeda’s existing branches. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Shabaab in Somalia, and Al Nusrah Front, Al Qaeda’s official arm in the Levant all remain openly loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Similarly, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was established by Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014 and is staffed by al Qaeda loyalists.[20]  The announcement is a significant boost of support for IS in the region outside of Iraq and Syria, suggesting the group's influence over militant groups is overshadowing its once dominant Al-Qaeda rivals.

IS took advantage of the political chaos in Libya to rapidly expand its presence and to carry out a string of deadly attacks. The IS has dramatically increased its physical and media presence in Libya since the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC) of Derna pledged allegiance to it last October, after which IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, recognized the Libyan "provinces" of Barqa (Cyrenaica), Tripolitania, and Fezzan as belonging to the "caliphate." [21] In November 2014, fighters loyal to IS gained complete control of Derna, not far from the Egyptian border and about 200 miles from the southern shores of the European Union. Boko Haram may receive support from its new allies in Libya in the form of recruits, weapons, finance, know-how, and intelligence.

For Western governments, IS groups in Libya may pose a threat to Europe and the danger is that Boko Haram will try to join forces with IS and expand beyond the region to attack Western targets.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told the Voice of America in an interview on March 12, 2015, that Boko Haram will be defeated in the north eastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa in the next couple of days.[22] But Learning lessons from the history of fighting Islamic terror organization we should assume that it will be a long war and the West will have to be more involved in order to defeat the IS and it's African allies.

[1] Boko Haram pledges allegiance to ISIL, reports say, Al Jazeera, March 8, 2015.

[2] ISIL 'accepts Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance', Al Jazeera, March 12, 2015.

[3]Isis welcomes Boko Haram's allegiance and plays down coalition 'victories', AFP, March 12, 2015.

[4] BBC Monitoringת Is Islamic State shaping Boko Haram media? BBC News, March 4, 2015.

[5] Farouk Chothia, Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists? BBC News, January 21, 2015.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] African coalition prepares for Boko Haram offensive, Al Jazeera, February 19, 2015.

[9] Daniel Flynn and Bate Felix , Boko Haram fails to unite African allies asChad andCameroon wait for Nigerian support, The Independent, March 3, 2015.

[10] Will Ross, Boko Haram's threat to region escalates, BBC News, January 19, 2015.

[11] African coalition prepares for Boko Haram offensive, Al Jazeera, February 19, 2015.

[12] Nigeria,Chad,Niger report success against Boko Haram, AFP, March 12, 2015.

[13] Chad and Niger armies take two towns from Boko Haram, Al Jazeera, March 8, 2015.

[14] Islamic State 'accepts' Boko Haram's allegiance pledge, BBC News, March 12, 2015.

[15] Ibid,

[16] Ed Croply, Boko Haram: Nigeria hires hundreds of mercenaries to help fight Islamist militant group, The Independent, March 14, 2015.

[17] Boko Haram will be ended in a couple of days – Jonathan, The Sun, March 12, 2015.

[18] Nigeria, Chad, Niger report success against Boko Haram, AFP, March 12, 2015.

[19] U.S. backs U.N. resolution on Boko Haram regional force, Reuters, March 11, 2015.

[21] Andrew Engel, the Islamic state's expansion in Libya, Policy Watch 2371, February 11, 2015.

[22] Boko Haram will be ended in a couple of days – Jonathan, The Sun, March 12, 2015.