Friday 2 October 2015

Islamic State Ties Widens Reach of Boko Haram

Nigeria predicts that Boko Haram will soon be defeated, but the militant group's ties with Islamic State mean that would probably push the fighters further into neighbouring countries, writes BBC Monitoring Africa security correspondent Tomi Oladipo.

The Nigerian military has been in overdrive in trying to control the narrative of its war against Boko Haram in recent weeks.

It says it has cornered the jihadists and the conflict will soon be over - in line with its mandate from President Muhammadu Buhari to end the crisis by mid-November.

Boko Haram's eccentric frontman Abubakar Shekau has not appeared in a video since February, when he threatened to disrupt the elections.

The following month he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) in an audio message and since IS also reached out to their Nigerian counterpart, Shekau has taken a back seat.

Shekau has released similar audio clips to disprove reports about his death, although the fact that he is not visible leaves room for speculation among the army that they have killed him, as they have claimed on several occasions.

His retreat from the forefront signifies that Boko Haram, also known as IS West Africa Province, now takes orders from the further up the IS hierarchy.

Nonetheless, there was recently room for another message to once again defy the Nigerian government, which sparked the realisation in the military that this game of cat-and-mouse was going nowhere.

Defence spokesman Colonel Rabe Abubakar described Shekau as "irrelevant" and urged Nigerians not to "not to lose sleep over the concocted audio rhetoric of the waning terrorist sect which is a usual antic of a drowning person struggling to hold on to anything to remain afloat".

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau used to appear regularly in the group's videos. Overall, Boko Haram's propaganda campaign has waned since the beginning of the year, when it used social media to promote sleek videos showing speeches and attacks.

The latest video, released to coincide with the Eid al-Adha festival in late September, is poorly produced and appears to show fighters praying but there is no indication of how recent all the footage is.

It has been two years since the US placed a $7m (£4.5m) bounty on Shekau's head but neither he nor his top commanders have been found.

As long as that is not achieved, the group will be able to rethink its strategy, recruit, rearm and develop new methods of operating.

The jihadists have shown that they can continue to inflict significant damage even with few but deadly explosions.

In one recent triple attack, they killed dozens of people in Maiduguri, the city where they were formed in 2002.


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