By Tim Nanns
An audio message that went online on Saturday, bearing similarities to “Islamic State” (IS) propaganda videos, purportedly is the voice of Boko Haram’s leader, known as Abu Bakr Shekau.
In the message, Shekau is allegedly addressing self-proclaimed Caliph of “Islamic State” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and swearing his group’s allegiance to him.
The speaker states that “we announce our allegiance to the Caliph […] and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease”; a pledge similar to the ones made by other radical Islamist groups to Al-Baghdadi before. These groups include Sinai-based Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which rebranded itself “State of Sinai”, and several other groups in Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There has been an increase and a shift in Boko Haram’s social media activity since January, now displaying more professionalism than before, with closer resemblance to IS media, leading to speculations among analysts about closer ties between the two groups.
Earlier on Saturday several bomb blasts hit the capital of the Nigerian state of Borno, Maiduguri, killing more than 50 people. Though so far nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, it bears close resemblance to Boko Haram’s terror tactics, frequently targeting civilians. Maiduguri has been the target of major Boko Haram assaults earlier this year, which were repelled by Nigerian armed forces.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Abdelatty told Daily News Egypt that it is “now evident” that groups like IS, the Muslim Brotherhood and Boko Haram “are all the same”, while reiterating earlier calls by the Egyptian government to the international community to “unite against these groups”.
Islamic institution Dar Al-Ifta struck the same chord in a statement published on Sunday, condemning both organisations as having “different names [but] carrying the same intellectual poisons”. They stated that this is religious extremism that is not about a religious direction, but much more “driven by their greed for power”. It also called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities”, criticising the selective approach by some countries in dealing with “these organisations”.
Meanwhile in the US, Michael McCaul (Rep.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, issued an official statement Saturday, calling upon the US president to “lay out a sweeping plan […] to win this war” and warning of the possibility of more “Islamist terrorist groups join[ing] together in taking aim at the West”.
However, there is uncertainty if the pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram is just a symbolic act that’s aiming at boosting the popularity of both groups, or if IS will gain any form of operational control over Boko Haram and its affiliates.
While both organisations are aspiring to establish Islamist rule in their respective areas of operation, there are stark differences in their operational approaches. IS is setting up state-like structures in addition to military operations and terrorist attacks, while Boko Haram is likewise relying on terror and military operations, but has not made any attempt so far at setting up structures in any way similar to the ones in IS-held territory.