News / Africa

Islamic State Declaration Spreads to Nigeria

Video screen shot of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram leader and obtained by AFP shows Abu Bakr Shekau, delivering a speech at an undisclosed location, Aug. 24, 2014.
Video screen shot of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram leader and obtained by AFP shows Abu Bakr Shekau, delivering a speech at an undisclosed location, Aug. 24, 2014.
William Eagle

Boko Haram’s declaration of a caliphate and an Islamic state in Nigeria yesterday mirrors the declaration made three months ago by the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It was al-Baghdadi's Islamic State that last week shocked the world with the release of the video execution of American journalist James Foley.

Yesterday, as Islamic State  militants seized a Syrian military base, Boko Haram’s leader, Abu Bakr Shekau in Nigeria posted his own video declaration of an Islamic state in the northwest corner of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

Nigeria’s armed jihadists are evolving from years of hit-and-run tactics to try to capture and occupy towns, according to analysts.

Nigerians in the northern town of Buni Yadi began fleeing Boko Haram late last week. That follows reports of Boko Haram’s take-over of government buildings in Gwoza – a town on Nigeria’s western border with Cameroon - where the militants placed one of their own on the throne of a local emir.

The Nigerian government denies Boko Haram’s occupation claims.

Nigerian rebels watch events in Iraq

Jacob Zenn of Washington D.C.’s Jamestown Foundation is among a number of observers of Nigeria’s radical Muslim force who sees potentially stronger links between various jihadist forces in Africa – including Boko Haram - and the greater political ambitions of the Islamic State in Iraq. Zenn and others also see al-Baghdadi’s jihadists in Syria and Iraq competing with the terrorists of al-Qaida for the allegiances of Africa’s Islamist rebels.

Analysts explain Boko Haram links to Islamic state in Iraq
Analysts explain Boko Haram links to Islamic state in Iraqi
|| 0:00:00

Baghdadi’s military fortunes in Syria and Iraq follow his stated intention to create a caliphate, a movement to expand geographic control under a supreme religious and political leader who acts as a caliph reminiscent of Muslim rulers of a 17th-century Ottoman Empire.

Zenn has watched Nigeria’s armed extremists try to carve a small Islamic empire out of Borno state in the Nigeria’s north. He thinks Shekau and his heavily-armed fighters are paying close attention to Baghdadi’s progress in far-away Syria and Iraq.

“It seems that the declaration of the caliphate by ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, would be well-received by a group like Boko Haram that has not been declared a formal affiliate by al-Qaida,” said Zenn. “Because you see around the world the groups that al-Qaida did not reach out to, all appearing to side more with ISIS probably because they felt that Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida since bin Laden’s death, didn’t sufficiently cozy up to them.”

Boko Harm and other far-flung jihadist movements now have a choice to make. Shadi Hamid, a Brookings Institution fellow at their Middle Eastern studies center, says Baghdadi’s Islamic State is far different than Boko Haram and more of a political model than what Hamid calls "al-Qaida Central."

“ISIS has been very good at creating facts on the ground,” said Hamid. “And they do control large swaths of territory and in that sense what we’re seeing is unprecedented. I mean al-Qaida never really controlled territory in that way and were never so ambitious as to go around declaring caliphates. So, in this sense, ISIS is a bit of an upstart and they’re very ambitious; probably too ambitious and I think they will probably fall under the weight of their own ambition.”

The ambitions of al-Baghdadi and his followers may soon confront major world powers that could curb those ambitions. Zenn suggests that ISIS is appealing for help from Boko Haram and others jihadists.

Boko Haram may be more successful

Zenn says the Iraqi version of an Islamic State has larger opposition than Boko Haram. “And that may be why ISIS is reaching out through the scraps of the al-Qaida network - like Boko Haram, like the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf, like the Indonesian group in Sulawesi.

“But in terms of Boko Haram following the ISIS model of floating in the border regions and then attacking deeper into the countries, I think that Boko Haram could likely have more success in West Africa,” Zenn said. “There are fewer mid- and major-powers that can roll back a group like Boko Haram if it sought to carry out a blitzkrieg through countries like Chad, Cameroon and Niger.”

The attraction of a modern caliphate

If al-Baghdadi’s followers have a greater challenge ahead of them, Hamid argues that other jihadists could benefit from studying what this proposed caliphate is trying to build. Hamid describes the new vision – even a kind of governance - offered by al-Baghdadi and his followers.

“Now, Boko Haram is more of an old-school terrorist group in the sense that it is all about destroying and there isn’t much of a sense of vision there as to what to build in its place,” said Hamid. “This is where ISIS – they’re not the old al-Qaida approach of the early 2000’s which was very much focused on killing, on terrorist attacks - this is where other extremist groups like Boko Haram are watching ISIS very closely.

“It does force them to think about these issues more,” said Hamid. “And not just about a caliphate in a general sense, but also, ‘How do you hold territory?’ ‘How do you govern?’ ‘Should you be governing?’  ‘How do you provide services to the constituents in the territory that you hold?’”

Boko Haram’s African support network

Boko Haram owes much to al-Qaida Central, Zenn said.

“Their ties within northern Africa and the Gulf are considerable," he said. "Most directly, it has been groups like al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb based in countries like Mali, Algeria and Mauritania that have provided expertise to Boko Haram.”

They enjoy “very close relations” with import-export businessmen in Cameroon and received training from militants in Libya, Zenn said, training from al-Shabab and probable financial support from groups in Sudan, the Gulf states and the United Kingdom.

“It’s certainly a wider network than just Nigeria, even if the focus of the concentration of its attacks is on Nigeria,” Zenn said.

A contest between powers and personalities

“Al Qaida Central has been clear about distancing itself and disavowing ISIS," Hamid said. “It’s not just about ISIS’s methods but it’s also about personalities and power. It’s also about who controls this Islamic jihadist movement that al Qaida represents. And Ayman al-Zawahiri, who obviously replaced Usama bin Laden as the head of al Qaida Central, is not someone who is nearly as charismatic and doesn’t have the same level of respect as bin Laden did. So in that sense there is more room for other competitors to move into that space.

Boko Haram and its counterparts in other parts of African may make a choice as to which jihadist forces to follow, should the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or al-Qaida survive and prosper. So far, Boko Haram has been successful in tearing down the social and political structures of Borno State.

With little effective resistance to date from the Nigerian military - where thousands have died in three northern states of Nigeria and an estimated 200 school girls remain missing after being abducted by the terrorists more than four months ago - Boko Haram’s leaders may not need to follow the Islamic state or al-Qaida.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs