What does Boko Haram’s ‘allegiance’ to IS group mean for the West?
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Boko Haram is believed to be the largest Islamist militant organisation to align itself with the Islamic State group after swearing allegiance over the weekend. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the implications of the new union.
Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau on March 7 announced his organisation’s “allegiance” to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in an audio recording posted on Twitter. Although the declaration was largely meant to draw media attention, it came as no surprise to many experts.
Shekau first expressed his support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – leader of the Islamic State group and self-proclaimed caliph of the Muslim world – in July. Since then, there have been a number of signs suggesting a rapprochement between the two extremist groups.
In recent months, Boko Haram’s military and media strategies have changed to increasingly reflect those of the Islamic State group, indicating that the two organisations had established links.
Allegiance largely symbolic
For Anne Giudecelli, director of TERR(o)RISC, a consultancy firm that specialises in international security threats, Shekau’s announcement was part of the Islamic State group’s psychological warfare.
“An ‘allegiance’ is a sign of support that allows the two groups to take part in the same fights and share the same enemies,” Giudecelli told FRANCE 24.
Ideologically, the groups have similar goals: carve out a caliphate and introduce sharia law in the territories it controls. However, it is unlikely the like-minded organisations can combine their firepower in any meaningful way. According to FRANCE 24’s terrorism expert, Wassim Nasr, the allegiance is “completely intangible”.
Nasr’s comments were echoed by Dominique Trinquand, a French military specialist, who said Boko Haram will remain autonomous in part because it is based in Nigeria.“Boko Haram is ready to obey the leader of [the Islamic State group], but it is not a merger because they are very far apart geographically,” he said.
While the fusion between Boko Haram and the Islamic State militants remains largely symbolic, the timing of Shekau announcement was carefully timed, Trinquand said.
“This is happening at a time when Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group] is struggling in the Middle East, while Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad have formed an alliance against Boko Haram,” Trinquand noted. “Both groups are in a weak position. This strategic allegiance demonstrates that they are regrouping despite setbacks on the ground.”
Moïse Gomis, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in the Nigerian city of Lagos, agreed.
“The heavy losses incurred by Boko Haram in recent weeks and [Chadian President] Idriss Déby’s declaration that Abubakar Shekau has been located makes one think that Boko Haram is at an impasse,” Gomis said.
Consequences for the West
Experts also concurred that the announcement may force Western countries to shift their strategy in the fight against Islamic State jihadists.
“The message the Islamic State group is sending is: ‘I’m the one who defines the theatre of war, which is going to expand beyond Syria and Iraq to Algeria, Libya, Egypt and now, Sub-Saharan Africa,” Nasr explained.
“The threat of jihadist extremism takes many forms,” Trinquand added. “We should compartmentalise and address Islamist threats in Libya, Central Africa of the Middle East separately.”
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