Monday, 26 November 2018
REVEALED: How The Islamic State is Expanding in Nigeria
Sequel to the splitting of Boko Haram in 2015 into two now rival factions, the ISIS-backed branch has been gaining momentum.
Matteo Puxton, a specialist in defense issues provides deep insight.
ISIS’s Western Africa branch, in 2018, has emerged as the major jihadist player in Nigeria, spilling over into Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
More discreet than the group of Aboubakar Shekau in terms of propaganda, the announced territorial end of the IS in Syria, after that in Iraq, and the tilting of the organization in the insurgency in these two countries, have increased the visibility of the outer territorial branches, such as West Africa, voluntarily put forward in the global propaganda of the jihadist group.
The latest video of the wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya, the West Africa Islamic State (PAOEI) province, dated back to February 2017.
The video of July 11 is the first of the year 2018 and seems to cover, at a minimum, the companies of the group since January 2018.
Since August 2016, the movement known as Boko Haram, which joined the Islamic State in March 2015, becoming a province (Gharb Ifriqiyya, or West Africa), is cut in half. The historical leader, Aboubakar Shekau, denied by the IS, leads his own faction (called the Sunni Group for Preaching and Jihad, Jamā’at Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Da’wah wa-l-Jihād) who still claims the jihadist organization, as shown by the use of ISIS codes in its propaganda videos.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the founder of Boko Haram, appointed by the IS as the new head of PAOEI, led since August 2016 the local branch of the organization.
The two groups clashed sometimes, while fighting against the states that are chasing them, Nigeria in the first place.
The break between Shekau and the Islamic State is sanctioned in August 2016 but it has its origins several months earlier.
The Nigerian is blamed for his dictatorial leadership, his failures to maintain the momentum of the group, which accumulates problems, and especially the condemnation of his extremist view of takfir (excommunication of all those who oppose the jihadist group, who automatically lose their Muslim status and thus become legitimate targets for Shekau).
Barnawi refocused PAOEI’s action on military objectives, in particular, which does not prevent him from using suicide bombers, all male, against civilian targets.
In 2018, two attacks show that the organization can target other objectives than the military: in February, West Africa IS province abducts more than 100 girls in northern Yobe state, finally released after negotiations.
In Rann (Kala Balge, Borno, Nigeria) in March, four humanitarians are killed in a military camp. Two ICRC nurses were then captured and have since been executed. Shekau, meanwhile, favors suicide bombings with women or children kamikazes.
In parallel, he attacks military convoys with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or during small ambushes, and launches raids on the villages to refuel. Two ICRC nurses were then captured and have since been executed.
Geographically, the Shekau faction, the Sunni Group for Preaching and Jihad, is present in central and southern Nigeria’s Borno State, particularly in its Sambisa Forest Bastion, and the border with Cameroon.
The West Africa IS province is based in the northern part of Borno State in the Lake Chad region, but has extended its reach south to Damboa, and to the south west in the state of Yobe.
It also operates in the north of Cameroon as the Shekau faction, but it dominates in southeastern Niger and Chad.
Roads in the Shekau group area are considered insecure, as he does not hesitate to set up ambushes with FDI or more conventional, while the faithful band of the IS targets only the military objectives.
Shekau frequently targets Maiduguri, his hometown, with suicide bombings in the south and east. Boko Haram had led incursions into Cameroon and Niger even before joining ISIS.
As confirmed by the video of July 2018, it is mainly the West Africa IS province that has been operating in south-eastern Niger for two years now.
The town of Bosso, for example, provides a pool of recruitment to the group.
On 24 March, the West Africa IS province raided the Diffa region of Niger and killed five civilians, injuring seven others.
It is possible that the organization trains the artificers of ISIS branch in the Great Sahara, for the preparation of more sophisticated IEDs. The Americans admit to having fought the group in December 2017.
From April to June 2018, PAOEI is clearly trying to extend its reach to Nigeria as a whole, and not just to its traditional base in the northeast.
On May 5, two of its members were arrested in Abuja (captial of Nigeria). In six months, the group struck ten military installations or army units in the Lake Chad region.
The al-Zikra media branch of the West Africa IS province now publishes documents in no less than 15 dialects spoken in Nigeria or Niger.
In early June, Nigerian and Cameroonian forces dismantle a jihadist weekly tax collection cell in a region of Borno.
On June 25, several Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers were killed during the attack on a convoy. PAOEI travels by day in the province of Borno with a convoy, for example.
On July 14, 2018, a week after the video went live, she attacked a new Nigerian army base at Jillil, using grab uniforms and camouflaging technicals to make them look like army vehicles.
Of the 730 soldiers of the 81st brigade billeted on the spot, more than 500 are missing, 62 were killed.
The 81st Brigade had been stationed at Jillil less than a month earlier to hinder the movement of jihadists.
The Nigerian soldiers, taken by surprise, fled: among the dead, three officers. There would be at least 50 wounded.
After attacking small military installations, the West Africa IS province has this time targeted a bigger goal.
The attack may also testify to the fact that the group has moved some of its troops from the Lake Chad region to Nigeria’s Yobe province, where it has increased attacks in the last two years anyway.
It seems that PAOEI has accelerated its recruitment since the beginning of the year, with some success. Its recruiters would be particularly active on Telegram.
On July 20, a Nigerian soldier is killed by the group in the Diffa region.
All of this clearly shows that the West Africa IS province is a far more menacing, long-term opponent than the Shekau faction.
t now has the capacity to attack important military installations, in addition to the small Nigerian or Nigerian installations previously targeted.
In addition, it made sure to rally the local population and to exercise some form of territorial control.
The fact that the group is able to project from its base in the region of Lake Chad, to Yobe, north of Cameroon and Logone-et-Chari in Chad, is the proof.
Finally, PAOEI is better able to receive external support through the organization of ISIS at the global level.
The propaganda activity of PAOEI increases sharply from August 13th.
We also see that the IS did not completely abandon the short video format to evoke current events, with a few days’ lag, since a new video, on September 8th, deals with a recent attack by the sub-Saharan branch.
On 5 August, the West Africa IS province clashes with the Nigerian army in Geidam district, near the border between Yobe and Borno provinces.
On 17 August, an infographic shows the claimed losses from 15 June to 17 August against Nigerian forces and the multinational mixed force: 320 killed, three prisoners, 12 vehicles, three bases destroyed and 18 captured vehicles.
PAOEI participates in the series of photo reports of ISIS’s propaganda on Eid, which covers all its provinces of the organization.
On August 31, the West Africa IS province launched an attack on a Nigerian army base near Zari, on the border of Lake Chad.
The Nigerian Air Force intervenes with a J-7NI (enhanced Chinese version of the MiG-21) and a Mi-35M combat helicopter, presumably those filmed by the IS fighters in the video, claiming to have destroyed vehicles of the jihadists, at least for the helicopters, because the planes were not fired for fear of hitting their own troops.
These airstrikes reportedly killed three experienced PAOEI executives. Thirty soldiers at least were killed (we see 15 bodies in the video).
Since June 20, this is the 10th military base assault by the Salafist group: that of Zari, which strikes the 145th battalion, would have finally caused 48 killed and 19 wounded in the ranks of Nigeria.
On 8 September, the West Africa IS province seized the city of Gudumbali, a little further south, almost without battles, with the Nigerian army partly fleeing before the assault.
The Nigerian army counter-attack the next day, without being able to resume the locality from the outset. To deflect the army from its objective, PAOEI attacks, on September 10, a Nigerian base on Lake Chad, in Baga (Kukawa).
In any case, the terrorist organization has recovered a substantial amount of equipment by taking the aforementioned positions. The Nigerian army finally regains control of Gudumbali.
The military capacity building of IS West Province since the beginning of the year is evident.
Better organized, better structured, able to deploy suicide bombers modeled on those deployed in Syria and Iraq (with a workshop to manufacture them, as shown in the video of July), its fighters (some of which are now equipped with “a semblance of uniform, as in the territorial phase of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) represent, no doubt, more than the faction of Aboubakar Shekau, a real threat to Nigeria.
The September 9th photo report shows the fighting in Garunda on the Gudumbali road, again with many soldiers killed on the Nigerian side and a large amount of material booty.
A photo report of the Islamic State, dated September 30, shows the attack, a few days earlier (September 26), against a Nigerian army base in Gashikar, near Lake Chad.
The first picture shows at least 32 fighters gathered around a Land Cruiser pickup, with AK assault rifles and at least two RPG-7 rocket launchers.
The attacking group is probably even more numerous. Another photo shows about fifteen men in column progressing in single file.
The group engages the usual technicals in the assault, but there is also a Vickers Mk 3 tank of the Nigerian army, which seems to have been captured previously and used by jihadists to provide fire support to the infantry.
In another photo, in addition to the pickup left.
The Nigerian army had reported on September 27 on the assault shown in this photo report, saying the 145 Battalion, which occupies the area, had repelled the attack in Gashikar.
The documents published by the IE invite perhaps a little less optimism.
On September 9, the West Africa IS province announced an attack on Baja near Lake Chad, where it reportedly destroyed a Nigerian army tank.
On September 26, she claimed seven Nigerian soldiers killed and wounded near the town of Adam (Lake Chad). On 5 October, PAOEI claimed the firing of five mortar shells at a headquarters of the Nigerian army in Liatry, near Lake Chad (a photo report also shows the shots, with a light mortar, 50-60 mm).
On 9 October, a statement claimed the death of 31 Nigerian soldiers and the capture of five others during an attack near Lake Chad in the Kanguri area.
The next day, the group attacked a Chadian army base in Kaiga Kindji: eight soldiers were killed, 11 seriously wounded, but in the counter-attack, followed by Nigerian airstrikes.
This resurgence of activity of the West Africa province of the IS since the beginning of the year, and the sophistication of its military apparatus, is put by some analysts on the account of a hardening of the group, which would have executed its number two, Mamman Nur, in August, and Ali Gaga, number three, in August.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi would thus embody a harder line, opposed in particular to the dialogue with the Nigerian government, and perhaps also a stronger control of the ISIS command in Syria-Iraq on sub-Saharan African training – close links would also explain, perhaps, the recent transformation of the military apparatus of the group, quite marked.
In September, PAOEI executed a Nigerian nurse who was taken prisoner during a raid last March.
The development of the military capabilities of the West African province of IS this year, and its increased visibility in the propaganda of the jihadist group, are therefore not reassuring.
Contrary to what the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, said, the terrorist organization still does not seem to be defeated in Nigeria. The road still seems long before the defeat of an adversary whose abilities do not seem weakened.
Culled from: sahelstandard.com