Nelson Lewis Boko Haram

A group of Boko Haram militants.

Last weekend, the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram made a pledge of loyalty to ISIS in Iraq. And yesterday, ISIS spokesman Abu al-Adnani announced that they had accepted the group’s pledge, saying that they had “expanded” to West Africa.  Previously, Al Adnani had urged fighters from around the world to migrate and join Boko Haram.

This announcement from ISIS came as both groups have been struggling against increased military pressure.  ISIS is currently battling Iraqi forces in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, while also coming under fire from air strikes in Iraq and Syria.  And Boko Haram has been weakend by a multinational force that has dislodged them from numerous towns in northeastern Nigeria.  However, its new Twitter account, increasingly slick and with more frequent video messages, is strongly reminiscent of ISIS.  Then, last Saturday, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Sheka, posted an audio recording online that pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Many experts have pointed out that this allegiance, quickly agreed to by the two powers, highlights increased risk.  Militants finding it harder to get to Syria and Iraq could choose instead to go to northeastern Nigeria, and internationalize the conflict.  Boko Haram’s pledge comes as militants have been massing in Gwoza for a showdown with the multinational force.

Last year alone, Boko Haram killed some 10,000 people, and were responsible for abducting hundreds of schoolgirls last April.  For nearly 6 years now, the group has been waging an insurgency to impose Sharia law in Nigeria.  Last year, they began launching attacks across the border into Cameroon, and this year, their fighters struck in Niger and Chad in retaliation to their agreement to form a multinational force to fight the militants.  In response to the fighting, thousands of Nigerian refugees have fled to neighboring Chad.

Back in August, Boko Haram followed the lead of ISIS and declared an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.  Much like ISIS, they’ve also been publishing videos of beheadings, many of which borrow elements from ISIS productions, such as the sound of a beating heart and heavy breathing right before the execution.  In video messages the previous year, Boko Haram’s leader sent greetings and praise to the leaders of both ISIS and Al Qaeda.  Unlike ISIS, however, Boko Haram was never affiliated with Al Qaeda, possibly because the latter considered Boko Haram’s indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims as un-Islamic.  Recently, offensives have marked a sharp escalation by African nations against the Boko Haram problem.  Since February 8, military operations in Niger’s east have killed at least 500 Boko Haram fighters.