Boko Haram now has its own slick online media channel that will be used by the terror group to propagate radicalism, spread propaganda, sanitize its ideology of death and also showcase its bloodthirsty and savage military campaigns. The media channel is called Urwah al-Wuthqa (The Indissolube Link) and its design and features closely resemble those of al Furqan Media Foundation – ISIL’s official media outlet. Urwah al-Wuthqa currently broadcasts audio propaganda, militant videos and press statements.
The resemblance of the two media outlets indicates that Boko Haram is mirroring ISIL, and the terror group is also laying the foundation for a prospective alliance with ISIL that will see both terror groups coordinate their terror activities. If Boko Haram and ISIL form an extremist alliance, it will extend the specter of jihadi terrorism and the corresponding arc of instability from South-East Asia to West Africa.
Evolution of strategies.
The creation of the new channel by Boko Haram depicts an evolution of strategies, with the terror group seeking to extend its influence outside Nigeria. This view is supported by the fact that the slick videos broadcast by the channel features English and Arabic subtitles, indicating an intent to reach non-Hausa and non-Kanuri speaking demographics. Previous Boko haram videos were in Hausa (a local language widely spoken in Northern Nigeria) or Kanuri (the native language of Kanuris – the predominant ethnic group in Borno State) language.
Boko Haram (also known as Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Li-l-Daw’ah wa-l-Jihad) previously produced terrible low-quality and grainy videos which were sent to media outlets before being posted to the internet. This pointed to Boko Haram’s lack of media strategy. An effective media strategy is something Sunni Jihadists value, and it is quite evident that other Sunni jihadists advised and assisted Boko Haram to strategize on its media plan and also create its media channel.
Hallmarks of ISIL.
The debut interview broadcast by Urwah al-Wuthqa bore the hallmarks of ISIL; professional graphics, introductory anthem, blurred faces; and the waving black Islamist flag tucked at the corner of the screen. The introductory anthem was the nasheed popularized by ISIL, ummati qad laha al-fajr – roughly translated into English as; the dawn of the ummah has appeared. The Hausa interview had English and Arabic subtitles, suggesting that the video production was contracted out.
Urwah al-Wuthqa also created a twitter account which was immediately followed by ISIL members and ISIL sympathisers. Joyous ISIL dastards have also been pushing out Boko Haram messages to the wider world. Moreover, they are responsible for the sudden professionalism and sophistication in the expression of the messages posted by Boko Haram. Quite tellingly is the fact that all the messages posted by the Nigerian insurgent group were in Arabic as opposed to English – Nigeria’s official language; or Hausa.
US intelligence community assessment.
The US intelligence community assesses that Boko Haram and ISIL have not converged and that no evidence exists to indicate cooperation between the two terror groups, but they do attest to the fact that the current development of Boko Haram media strategy may indicate superficial cooperation between the terror groups.
The imminent objective of Boko Haram is to create an Islamic Caliphate that covers Nigeria and the neighboring regions; unlike ISIL which seeks a trans-continental Caliphate. However, this does not discredit the existence of a common strategic vision between the two insurgent groups.
SIS has observed a convergence of terror ideology, public rhetoric and operational strategies between the two terror groups and warns that it may go deeper than the current assessment that such convergence only indicates a marriage of convenience.
The recent video broadcast showing Boko Haram training child soldiers indicates that Boko Haram is broadly embracing ISIL tactics and propaganda. Moreover, Boko Haram has changed its military strategies from hit-and-run attacks (a classic guerrilla tactic) to aggressively fighting off the Nigerian military and capturing territory – a tactic popularized by ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
In case an alliance is formed between the two terror groups, ISIL will be the greatest beneficiary as such an alliance will enable the Arab-dominated terrorist organization to extend its grasp outside the Middle East and into West Africa – ISIL is currently encroaching on Afghanistan, North Africa and the Caucasus regions. The alliance will also enable ISIL to outdo its jihadist rival, Al Qaeda, as far as Africa is concerned.
At the moment, ISIL is courting Boko Haram. Boko Haram considers an alliance with ISIL as desirable because it can gain recruits, funds and also legitimize the terror group as a bona fide member of the global Jihadist insurgency.
Nonetheless, SIS considers such an alliance as fraught with risks for three main reasons. First of all, Abubakar Shekau – the leader of Boko Haram – is an irrational control freak who somewhat managed to create a cohesive group out of atomized assemblies of Muslim extremists; and it is quite unlikely that he will relinquish power to Arab jihadists (Al Qaeda itself has failed to make significant inroads into Nigeria). Secondly, Boko Haram is quite wary of entering into an alliance that will induce the international community to form a coalition to fight them. Boko Haram is quite happy with the current situation where they only face the incompetent and ill-disciplined Nigerian army. Finally, even though Boko Haram shares a sense of spiritual unity with Arab jihadists, cultural differences would preclude Boko Haram from allowing itself to be subsumed into an Arab entity.
All in all, the evolving turn of events will ultimately decide the depth of Boko Haram-ISIL alliance.