After months of emulating the videos and tactics of the Islamic State, on Mar. 7th, Boko Haram pledged bayat to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL) through the release of an audiotape. The pledge was accompanied by a renewed offensive against the city of Maiduguri, with four suicide bombing attacks.
Today, ISIL seems to have accepted Boko Haram’s pledge. The extent of the partnership between Boko Haram and ISIL remains unclear, but the declaration marks an important moment in the evolution of the Boko Haram insurgency.
What began as a dissident sect confined to a small area in Borno State is now a 4,000-6,000 strong force that controls significant territory in the country, has launched regional attacks, and is now cultivating international terrorist links. Recent videos and statements from Boko Haram have emulated the style of ISIL’s propaganda; stylistically, Boko Haram has increased its professionalism and sophistication and even adopted the same music as ISIL in the “opening credits” of their films.
Such mimicry may generate international credentials, though the extent to which smoothly edited videos will generate support in Nigeria remains to be seen. Roughly one-third of the Nigerian population has access to the Internet, though the rate of Internet penetration in the country is growing rapidly. Internet usage rates are almost certainly lower in the country’s northeast, where Boko Haram is the strongest, but knowledge of its link to ISIL through other outlets would still confer legitimacy on Boko Haram.
In recent months, Boko Haram and ISIL have both relied upon strategies of taking territory, rather than engaging in the sort of sensationalized attacks against Western targets that characterize Al Qaeda and its affiliates. While Al Qaeda has relied upon donor funding, ISIL relies upon selling oil on the black market and other illicit activities to finance its operations; over recent months, Boko Haram’s financing seems increasingly linked to criminal networks in the Sahel, including the possible sale of abducted girls.
The group has also been involved in bank robberies since its inception. The value in an affiliation with ISIL, for Boko Haram, therefore lies less in the potential operational assistance and more in the facilitation of recruitment from such an arrangement.
Read more at Quartz