CATF Reports Jul. 12, 2016, 10:15am


In May of 2015 ISIS gained a new global branch in Nigeria when Boko Haram attacked two dozen soldiers in Niger in the name of Islamic State West Africa Province. Boko Haram, not long ago reputed the world’s deadliest terrorist group, is responsible for killing over 20,000 people and displacing 2 million in the region since 2009.  Their pledge of allegiance to ISIS last year raised some red flags about the group, which gained a global reputation for its kidnapping of 276 Chibok school girls. However, upon further observation, it seems that this new alliance does not have as much substance as would be expected.

The United States has kept a careful eye on ISIS’ activities, associations, and transactions for security purposes. U.S. officials reported that there has not been any evidence that Boko Haram has been receiving financial or military support from the Syria-based extremist group. According to these officials, there is no indication that the Nigerian-based group has directly benefited from any significant amounts of cash, weapons, or interaction with high ranking representatives from Islamic State leaders in Syria or Iraq. It seems that their ISIS pledge of allegiance has been no more than a branding exercise, giving Boko Haram further international notoriety. ISIS logos are now displayed more prominently in slicker Boko Haram videos, which are thought to be produced by ISIS operators outside West Africa. Nominee to lead the U.S. military’s Africa Command, Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, suggests that ISIS assistance comes in the form of tradecraft and training, with no real ties to show for this new alliance except for a stronger propaganda platform and smoother media output.

Furthermore, it seems that this new partnership for Boko Haram, originally an Al-Qaeda splinter group, has caused more harm than good for the extremist group. Boko Haram’s current leader, Abubakar Shekau, has inspired some internal fractions within the group in not adhering to ISIS’s direction, especially regarding the issue of using children as suicide bombers. While ISIS requested that the group refrain from using child bombers, Shekau continued to do so, accounting for one-fifth of suicide bombers used by the group, 75% of whom are girls. In response, a portion of the group diverted from the current leader.

Another issue of contention seems to be the amount of buy-in from Boko Haram into the ISIS brand. According to General Waldhauser, nearly half of Boko Haram broke off into a separate group because of their disdain for ISIS’ brand. This alliance was meant to enhance Boko Haram’s jihadi reputation, draw-in more recruits, and appeal to central ISIS leadership for aid. However, this union has not lived up to the hype. In fact, within the past year since declaring their allegiance, Boko Haram has lost much of its territory.

Though the group has developed an even more lethal reputation in its alliance with ISIS, Boko Haram seems to remain confined to its regional arena. It has increased its suicide bombings since its alliance, but there is no indication that the group plans to fight alongside its Levant-area counterpart, nor has it had any significant effects on Western interests. Boko Haram’s focus has been the deep-rooted sectarian divide in Nigeria, predating ISIS’s existence. However, these internal splinters within Boko Haram raise areas of concern, as their commitment to ISIS is strong, and ISIS’s commitment to attacking Western and civilian interests is even stronger in its attempts to establish its caliphate.

The closest any intelligence has come to finding substantial links between Boko Haram and ISIS, on a global scale, is through attempts by Nigerian fighters to join ISIS’s Libyan branch. An ISIS recruiter, Abdussalam Enesi Yunusa, was arrested with three Nigerians, all of whom were in-route to an ISIS training camp in Libya. Apparently, these individuals were planning to leave the Boko Haram fight in Nigeria to join the ISIS fight in Libya.

In addition to the divisive internal discourse the ISIS partnership has caused Boko Haram, increased efforts by the Nigerian government have contributed to weakening the group. Former military general and current President, Muhammadu Buhari, came down hard on the group with military offensives in efforts to eliminate the terrorist organization. President Buhari promised to defeat the group when coming into office. His actions have shown his commitment to carry out his promise. In addition to boosting security in the northeastern Nigerian states through military offensives, he also implemented a campaign to weed out corruption in the military, eliminating top commanders entrenched with crooked reputations. Such efforts have established trust with international powers such as France, the UK, and the U.S., who have begun sharing intelligence with Nigeria to defeat Boko Haram. Another major strategy Buhari’s administration has been effective in is creating a joint task force of surrounding countries including Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, who have also been affected by the terrorist group. Such efforts have an effect on recapturing territories that were held by Boko Haram, and confining the group to the Sambisa forest, where most of the infamous kidnapped school girls remain.

The fact that extremism has taken a more deadly and violent form in Africa is still alarming, and something that needs to be kept under watch, whether the funds flow from the Middle East or not. If ISIS is telling the group to cool the brakes on their brutality to no avail West Africa has a huge problem on their hands that is not disappearing, and its security concerns could potentially spill over to global implications.

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