"Islamic State" militants have accepted a pledge of allegiance from Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram. Although both groups are on the defensive, the new alliance has the potential to worsen the conflict in northern Nigeria.
The leader of the "Islamic State" (IS) extremist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, accepted a pledge of allegiance by Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram, an IS spokesman said on Thursday (12.03.2015).
"Our caliph, God save him, has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram, so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa," IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani said in an audio recording released by IS's media arm Al-Furqan.
"We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa," al-Adnani said, urging supporters who could not join IS in Syria and Iraq to go and fight in Africa. "We are calling you up for jihad, go."
Boko Haram had pledged allegiance to IS in an audio recording posted on the Internet last Saturday.
The IS spokesman downplayed a series of recent setbacks in Iraq and Syria, saying the group was sure of its victory. IS is being attacked by Kurdish forces in Syria, who have managed to cut an important supply route. The militants are also facing a major counteroffensive in Iraq, while a US-led coalition is conducting air strikes against the group in both countries.
Boko Haram, too, has suffered a series of defeats. A multinational force has driven the extremists from many of the towns they once controlled in northern Nigeria. And at least 500 Boko Haram fighters have been killed in military operations in eastern Niger since February 8, according to Nigerien officials.
Internationalization of Boko Haram's insurgency
Although both groups appear to be on the defensive, the alliance between the groups could pose new threats.
IS can profit from the pledge of allegiance in its competition with al Qaeda, as the pledge augments its standing among jihadists, Annette Weber of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW in an interview.
J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, sees a risk that people who were being prevented from going to Iraq or Syria would now join the Boko Haram insurgency. "Militants ... may choose instead to go to northeastern Nigeria and internationalize that conflict," he wrote in an email to the AP news agency.
Annette Weber, however, said that IS has more international appeal than Boko Haram. "What we see from Boko Haram is that, yes, there is a regionalization, yes, there are more and more attacks on Cameroon and Chad and even Niger, but it's not the same spreading that we've seen with IS," she noted. "So I think the aim of Boko Haram is much more national than it is with IS."
A major boost to Boko Haram could be the ideological inspiration that the linkage to IS provides, Manji Cheto, Vice President of Teneo Intelligence, a risk analysis organization in London, told DW. "By accepting the pledge of allegiance, [IS] would effectively be providing much bigger ideological support, which in a way is even more dangerous than the supply of weapons," she said.
Annette Weber thinks that certainly the head of Boko Haram will benefit. "[Abubakar] Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, was known to be - and specifically since this year has been - very openly supportive of the Islamic state, and getting back what he wished for will boost his success and his morale."
Rather than receiving weapons, it would be more feasible for Boko Haram to obtain financial support. "It's just a question of providing the money for Boko Haram and actually then being able to purchase weapons that are already widely prevalent in the region," security expert Manji Cheto points out. "It's the ideological inspiration and actually the financial support – I think that is the most immediate danger as a result of the alliance between the two groups."
Manji Cheto also sees an internationalization of the conflict due to the IS linkage, with both positive and negative ramifications. "What could actually come about as a result of this is more coordinated and more expedited international cooperation on the issue," she said. "But in a way, it's taken the issue from a kind of domestic and localized challenge into an international arena – which potentially could also mean a much more prolonged crisis."
The security expert thinks the international community is already taking the right measures in response to the crisis in northern Nigeria. What is important now, Manji Cheto said, is the proper funding of the African force fighting Boko Haram. "I think that if the international community wants to take this seriously, then there needs to be a quick solution on how to actually raise the funds to finance the operation of the multinational force."