Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), as previously predicted by Homeland Security Today in January and February, has been accepted according to an audio message. The recording – which has not yet been independently verified – features an ISIS spokesperson stating that the aim of establishing a caliphate has now been expanded to West Africa.
Boko Haram began its campaign to impose Islamist rule in Northern Nigeria in 2009. Since then its activities and operations have spread throughout Nigeria and to neighboring states that stand against them – in particular Chad.
Writing in a March 12 report for the Royal United Services Institute, Cathy Haenlein noted that Chadian troops have led an African Union effort to defeat Boko Haram.
“Large numbers of Chadian soldiers belong to the Kanuri and Shuwa-Arabic groups whose languages are widely spoken – making them well placed to gather intelligence," Haenlein said. "Chad’s fierce desert-fighting force has a reputation for effectiveness. It has extensive experience putting down domestic armed rebellions. And it contributed significantly to the liberation of northern Mali in 2013 – its success attributed to familiarity with this type of terrain and warfare. This record should, it is argued, translate into similar success in Nigeria.”
But Boko Haram’s geographical spread and growing influence, boosted by its recent ISIS-esque foray into social media, should be a matter of concern for the west, too. The allegiance to ISIS proves that Boko Haram is no longer a problem that can be restricted to Africa.
The evolving African Union security alliance has political backing from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, but for now at least, that is where it ends.
The West has avoided any closer involvement including military support, in part due to disagreements on how to best counter the threat from Boko Haram, as well as concerns over human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. Not to mention, of course, that their attention is focused elsewhere.
The alleged ISIS recording accepting Boko Haram’s allegiance calls for Muslims to join militants in West Africa if they cannot fight in Syria or Iraq as well as rejecting suggestions that Iraq forces and the US-led coalition have had recent successes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Continuing the threat against those who do not follow the proposed caliphate’s doctrine, the message stated, “If you want to save your blood and money and live in safety from our swords…you have two choices: either convert or pay jezyah,” referring to a "tax" for non-Muslims under Islamic law, which many see more as protection money.
The Boko Haram and ISIS allegiance could be an effective propaganda tool, and even aid in recruiting new members to both groups, but can it go beyond that? Is there any actual scope for collaboration on joint operations? Writing in The Guardian, Simon Tisdall says that the pledge of allegiance is “superficial” and may be a “cry for help” from Boko Haram, which has suffered defeats since united efforts against the group were stepped up following January’s massacre in Baga.
While the allegiance may be superficial, it is still damaging – if nothing else, it will boost ISIS’s global profile, and, as Tisdall wrote, “For Boko Haram, the shelter of ISIS’s umbrella, and the ungoverned spaces of the Sahel, potentially provide productive new linkages to other Muslim world conflict zones in terms of recruits, weapons, finance, know-how, and intelligence. For Western governments, this scenario conjures up their worst nightmare – the prospect of joined-up, globalized jihad.”