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Boko Haram seeks IS tie-up

Mark Caldwell (AFP, AP)March 9, 2015

Troops from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS).

Bomb blast in Maiduguri, northern Nigeria
Northern Nigeria was hit by more bomb blasts over the weekend as Boko Haram pledged support for Islamic StateImage: Tunji Omirin/AFP/Getty Images

Some 200 vehicles with soldiers from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.

As Nigeria's neighbors - including Chad, Niger and Cameroon - form a multinational force to confront Boko Haram, the militant Islamists have said they are seeking a formal tie-up with IS.

One Nigerian resident DW spoke to on Sunday (08.03.2015) was evidently alarmed by the news.

"The IS is in fact very strong so we have to make a reasonable contribution to tackle the issue of Boko Haram before it gets beyond our control," he said.

Nigerian security expert Ibrahim Aliyu concurred. He told DW he feared the struggle against Boko Haram would now go global and it would be even more difficult for the Nigerian government to contain them. He said he believed the government should "try and see if they can bring those people to the table."

Irak Tikrit Offensive gegen IS
Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters engage in heavy fighting against Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province in early MarchImage: Reuters/M. Raouf

Another Nigerian analyst, Mustapha Ibrahim said Boko Haram were seeking to align themselves with IS "because they are facing a lot of pressure" from regional forces in and around Nigeria.

'A natural ally'

IS overran large parts of Iraq and Syria in June 2014 declaring an Islamic "caliphate" in the two nations. The number of people living in the subjugated territories was "between six and seven million" according to Luay al-Khatteeb, a researcher at the Brookings Institute. Estimates of the number of IS fighters vary from 25,000 to 80,000. The size of its revenue is equally nebulous, but the United States Treasury said last year it believed IS was making $1 million (919,000 euros) a day from oil sales. Atrocities blamed on IS have been widely condemned. "Rarely has an armed force engendered such widespread revulsion and opposition," Human Rights Watch said in a reference to the group in its 2015 World Report.

Since September 2014, a US-led coalition has conducted repeated air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Max Abrahams, an analyst from Northeastern University in Boston University said neither IS nor Boko Haram were inhibited in terms of violence. "They are a natural ally," he told the AFP news agency.

Nigerians frightened

In August 2014, Boko Haram declared it was reviving an ancient Islamic caliphate that spilled across colonial era borders in a move copying IS.

But J. Peter Peter Pham, director of the US-based Atlantic Council's Africa Center, said Boko Haram's brutality, including beheadings and enslavement predated that of IS.

More than 13,000 people have lost their lives in the Boko Haram insurgency since it began in 2009.

Afrika Nigeria Niger & Tschad Offensive gegen Boko Haram
Chadian soldiers drive to the front line during a battle against Boko Haram in Gambaru in late FebruaryImage: Reuters/E. Braun

Ryan Cummings from risk consultants Red24 said Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance was a significant development in that it elevated the group among the international jihadist community and could possibly translate into having access to additional combatants.

"You could see Boko Haram coordinating operations with some North African groups who are operating under the Islamic State banner. But it doesn't necessarily mean there is going to be a discernible change in what is happening on the ground in northeastern Nigerian," he said.

Analysts say Boko Haram has a core of between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters. Whereas the Nigerian security forces have had little success in dislodging the group, the tide appears to have turned against Boko Haram since troops from neighboring countries have joined the fight.

Professor Abubakar Mustapha from Kano University in northern Nigeria told the AP news agency that just the idea of Boko Haram symbolically joining forces with IS was enough to frighten some Nigerians. "It will outrage and scare people," he said.