Boko Haram Claims Creation of Islamic CaliphateAugust 27, 2014 in Nigeria
In a new video made public on Sunday, Boko Haram’s leader has claimed to have created an Islamic caliphate in a northeastern Nigerian town that was seized by the militant group earlier this month. While the declaration is in line with the militant group’s desire of carving out an Islamic state in Nigeria, the timing of the announcement was likely prompted by the recent attention garnered by Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria.
In the new 52-minute video, Abubakar Shekau states “thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in the town of Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate,” adding that Gwoza, in Borno state, now has “nothing to do with Nigeria.” Earlier this month, the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) confirmed reports that Gwoza was under the control of the rebel group. While Boko Haram is now believed to be in control of other areas near Gwoza, in southern Borno, as well as large swathes of territory in northern Borno state and at least one town in neighboring Yobe state, mapping the precise areas that have fallen under the control of the Islamist militants will be nearly impossible as there are few humanitarian workers on the ground in the northeast, travel to the region remains dangerous and there is poor mobile phone coverage.
Links to IS
Boko Haram’s declaration of a caliphate in Nigeria has drawn comparisons with a similar declaration that was made by IS in June. While Boko Haram desires to create an Islamic state, it is believed that this premature declaration is a move to remain relevant in the region and in competition with IS.
Recent gains achieved by IS likely inspired Shekau’s statement, as the militant group has garnered international headlines in recent months by seizing parts of Iraq and Syria in a brutal onslaught. While global focus had initially been placed on Boko Haram’s widely condemned kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April, in recent months, much of that focus has shifted to the territorial ambitions of IS despite Boko Haram continuing to carry out nearly daily attacks in northeastern Nigeria. Furthermore, in the wake of a video released last week depicting the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley, the United States has described IS as the strongest-ever Islamist threat with its “apocalyptic end of days” ideology, a statement that has further taken attention away from the Nigerian-based militant group, which in comparison, is believed to be a modestly-funded uprising that is composed of poor youths with minimal tactical training. Although Boko Haram has carried out a brutal five-year campaign, by evoking a Nigerian caliphate, Shekau is likely attempting to remain relevant and to raise his own profile in the region, rather than submit to like-minded extremists in the Middle East.
While Shekau has on previous occasions expressed support for IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, and has congratulated IS on its advances in Iraq and Syria, this new video shows no indication from Shekau that he was associating himself with Baghdadi. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the two groups have been working together. Instead, it is likely that the Nigerian militant’s latest video is an attempt at reminding regional governments and the West that Boko Haram is as powerful a threat as IS.
Boko Haram’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate is inline with the militant group’s ideology, as it has long voiced a desire to create a strict Islamic state within mainly Muslim northern Nigeria. The timing of the announcement however is directly influenced by IS’ activities. Boko Haram had previously declared that they should overrun the entire country prior to declaring an Islamic republic, a belief that was reflected in the manner in which they expanded their area of activity. In the wake of a state of emergency in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, coupled with the launch of a military offensive, Boko Haram had slowly moved out of the city centers, and into the rural areas of northeastern Nigeria. They have also successfully carried out attacks in Abuja this year and have crossed over the porous border into Cameroon. However in recent weeks, Boko Haram has taken over a number of towns in Borno state, a move that demonstrates a shift from hit-and-run tactics to an apparent holding strategy. It is likely that after watching IS’ gains in Iraq and Syria, and the impact this has had on the group’s global attention, Boko Haram’s plan of achieving its goal are now taking on a more gradual approach.
What remains evident is that Boko Haram is closely monitoring IS operations, its gains, what impact it has on the global stage and how the militant group may be able to benefit. Boko Haram is likely to continue to mirror IS moves in the coming months, continuing to take over areas of northeastern Nigeria and possibly releasing brutal videos similar to those released by IS.