Since the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram[1] launched its first attack in northern Nigeria in September 2010, it has carried out more than 700 attacks that have killed more than 3,000 people.[2] Boko Haram primarily targets Nigerian government officials and security officers, traditional and secular Muslim leaders, and Christians.[3] It has also attacked schools, churches, cell phone towers, media houses, and government facilities, including border posts, police stations and prisons. Since January 2012, however, a new militant group has attracted more attention in northern Nigeria due to its threat to foreign interests. Jama`at Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilad al-Sudan (commonly known as Ansaru)[4] announced that it split from Boko Haram in January 2012, claiming that Boko Haram was “inhuman” for killing innocent Muslims as well as for targeting defectors.[5] Ansaru’s almost exclusive focus on foreign targets may also explain why the two groups could not coexist.

Boko Haram seeks revenge against the Nigerian government and security forces for killing its founder Muhammad Yusuf and 1,000 of his followers during a four-day series of clashes in July 2009.[6] Ansaru fights to restore the “lost dignity” of the Sokoto Caliphate, which was founded in 1804 by the Fulani shaykh Usman dan Fodio in northern Cameroon, northern Nigeria, and southern Niger, and lasted until the United Kingdom and France colonized the region and introduced Western education and Christianity in the 19th century.[7]

This article reviews Ansaru’s attacks on foreign interests in Nigeria, the possible role of al-Qa`ida operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar[8] in steering Ansaru toward kidnapping foreigners despite Boko Haram’s rejection of the tactic, and why al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chose to collaborate more with Ansaru than Boko Haram. Finally, the article assesses the future of Ansaru and Boko Haram now that the French-led military intervention has driven AQIM from northern Mali and potentially killed Belmokhtar.[9]

Ansaru’s Rise
To date, Ansaru may have executed six major attacks. Only the four operations carried out after Ansaru announced its formation on January 26, 2012, however, can be confidently attributed to the group.[10]

First Operation
Ansaru may have carried out its first operation in May 2011 when Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara—a British and Italian engineer of an Italian construction company—were kidnapped near the border with Niger in Kebbi State, northwest Nigeria. A previously unknown group called “al-Qa`ida in the Lands Beyond the Sahel” took responsibility in a proof-of-life video showing the two hostages blindfolded and kneeling in front of three veiled militants.[11] The video was sent to Mauritania’s Agence Nouakchott d’Information (ANI), which usually receives AQIM videos. Employing the same Mauritanian negotiator that AQIM used in several previous kidnappings, the militants reportedly demanded $6 million and the release of prisoners in West Africa in return for the two hostages.[12]

On March 7, 2012, Nigerian security forces broke up a Boko Haram Shura Council meeting in Kaduna led by Abu Muhammed, who defected from Boko Haram due to disagreements with Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.[13] The security forces determined from phone call logs and interrogations of the Shura Council members that Abu Muhammed was responsible for the British and Italian hostages and that the hostages were transferred to a house in Sokoto, north of Kebbi State.[14] On March 8, 2012, the captors shot both hostages when they saw helicopters of the UK Special Boat Service carrying out surveillance on the house.[15] Soon after, UK and Nigerian forces killed eight of the captors and detained eight others in a late effort to free the hostages. The detained captors confessed that they had “standing orders to kill the hostages immediately on sight of security agents, since we were not sure of surviving an encounter with the security men.”[16] This established a precedent that any attempt to free hostages would lead to their immediate deaths.

In June 2012, a Boko Haram informant alleged long-time AQIM member Khalid al-Barnawi coordinated the kidnappings of the British and Italian hostages with Abu Muhammed, and that Abu Muhammed had trained under al-Barnawi at an AQIM-run camp in Algeria.[17] That same month, the U.S. government designated al-Barnawi a “global terrorist” along with two other militants, Abubakar Adam Kambar, who trained under al-Barnawi at the AQIM camp in Algeria, and Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.[18] Nigerian security sources reported that members of Shekau’s faction tipped off Nigerian intelligence about Abu Muhammed and other “traitorous” cells in northwestern Nigeria that broke from Shekau and did not focus on fighting the Nigerian government.[19] Shekau’s spokesman also denied that Boko Haram carried out the kidnapping on the day after the hostages were killed, and said, “We have never been involved in hostage-taking, and we never ask for ransom.”[20]

Although Ansaru did not yet exist as a formal organization at the time of the kidnapping, some suspect that Khalid al-Barnawi later formed Ansaru.[21] Additionally, when speaking before the UK House of Commons in November 2012, Home Office Minister Mark Harper said that Ansaru is “also believed to be responsible for the murder of British national Christopher McManus and his Italian co-worker Franco Lamolinara in March 2012.”[22]

Second Operation
On January 26, 2012, the same day Ansaru announced its split from Boko Haram by circulating flyers in Kano, a German engineer was kidnapped in Kano. In March 2012, AQIM’s official media wing, al-Andalus, took credit for the kidnapping and demanded in a video sent to ANI in Mauritania that Germany release from prison a Turkish-born female jihadist website administrator whose German husband fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and was arrested in 2007 while planning to bomb Ramstein Air Base.[23] AQIM also reminded Germany about the “recent lesson taught to the UK [Special Boat Service] by the mujahidin,” referring to the British and Italian hostages killed in Sokoto on March 8, 2012.[24]

On March 26, 2012, Nigerian security forces raided a shop in Kano and detained the kidnapping cell’s leader, a Mauritanian, and three Nigerian accomplices, who used the Mauritanian’s shop as a base.[25] Documents in the Mauritanian’s laptop, including an AQIM operations manual, led Nigerian special forces to carry out a rescue operation of the German engineer in May 2012, but the captors shot the hostage immediately.[26] AQIM warned European countries not to engage in “foolishness” during future hostage negotiations and for Germany to stop violating Muslims and their holy sites.[27]

This kidnapping was claimed by AQIM and carried out by an AQIM member and local militants. Evidence uncovered from Kaduna, where Abu Muhammed was arrested, reportedly provided leads about the cell, and AQIM referred to the first operation in Sokoto in its claim.[28] As AQIM was not known to operate in Nigeria and Boko Haram did not engage in kidnapping operations at this time, it is plausible that Ansaru played a role in the kidnapping, especially since it followed the group’s modus operandi.

Third Operation
Starting in June 2012, Ansaru sent a series of e-mails to the Kaduna-based Desert Herald newspaper and released English- and Hausa-language YouTube videos affirming that Ansaru disapproved of Boko Haram’s killing of Muslims. In these communications, Ansaru said they would target the citizens and interests of “foreign Christian enemies in all parts of Africa,” but that Ansaru’s and Boko Haram’s missions were otherwise the same.[29] Then, on November 26, 2012, 40 Ansaru militants attacked the Special Anti-Robbery Squad prison in Abuja with the “assistance of internal collaborators,” according to the military and police.[30] The attack freed senior Boko Haram commanders and was praised in a YouTube video from Boko Haram leader Shekau, which was addressed to the “Soldiers of God in the Islamic State of Mali.”[31] Ansaru’s freeing of Boko Haram prisoners and Shekau’s video statement suggested that despite the circumstances surrounding Ansaru’s formation, the two groups were capable of supporting each other’s mutual objectives.[32]

This operation in Abuja marked the first time Ansaru formally claimed responsibility for an attack.[33]

Fourth Operation
On December 19, 2012, 30 Ansaru militants kidnapped a Frenchman from the compound of an energy company near the border with Niger in Katsina State, northwestern Nigeria. According to the Katsina police commissioner, the “coordination, speed, and expertise” of the operation suggested that employees of the company were involved in an “inside job.”[34] Ansaru claimed the kidnapping and said that it would continue to kidnap French citizens until France ended its ban on the Islamic veil for women and abandoned its plans to intervene militarily in northern Mali.[35]

Fifth Operation
On January 19, 2013, Ansaru militants, possibly acting on a tip, ambushed a convoy of three buses carrying 180 Nigerian soldiers through Okene, Kogi State, en route to Mali, killing two soldiers.[36] Ansaru claimed the troops “were aiming to demolish the Islamic Empire of Mali” and warned African countries to “stop helping Western countries fight Muslims.”[37] The attack revealed that Ansaru was able to operate in Kogi State, which is considered a “staging point” for attacking southern Nigeria because it has direct road links to all three of Nigeria’s southern zones.[38]

Sixth Operation
On February 16, 2013, Ansaru assaulted a prison and then kidnapped seven foreign engineers from a construction site in northeastern Nigeria’s Bauchi State. Ansaru warned that any attempt to free the hostages would result in the “same happenings” as the previous rescue attempts in Sokoto and Kano, and said that the kidnappings were in response to European “atrocities” in Afghanistan and Mali.[39] On March 9, 2013, Ansaru announced that it killed the “seven Christian foreigners” in an online statement with a photo and an accompanying video of an armed and camouflaged militant standing over four corpses.[40] Ansaru said it executed the hostages because of Nigerian media reports that British “jet fighters, soldiers, and intelligence” landed in Abuja to prepare for a rescue mission and that UK and Nigerian security forces had killed Muslims in previous attempts to rescue “Christian hostages.”[41]

Belmokhtar’s Role in Ansaru
Since the formation of AQIM in 2006-2007, AQIM’s Arab-Algerian southern zone commanders, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar, sought to expand their operations from southern Algeria southwards into Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to target the increasing number of foreigners and energy and mining companies in the Sahel.[42] One factor constraining AQIM, however, was that its northern African members did not master the southern Sahel’s physical and human terrain as well as the Tuaregs and sub-Saharan Africans from the region.[43] As a result, AQIM “coached” sub-Saharan Africans—such as Khalid al-Barnawi, Abu Muhammed and Abubakar Adam Kambar—in kidnappings and criminal activities and used sub-Saharan recruits as couriers between AQIM and local Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram.[44] An example of this strategy’s effectiveness was the January 7, 2011, kidnapping of two Frenchmen from a restaurant in the French and Hausa-speaking capital city of Niamey, Niger. The two men were scouted by a Nigerian Boko Haram member who provided their location to other Hausa, Arabic and French-speaking members of Belmokhtar’s Veiled Brigades.[45] The hostages were both killed the following day when French military helicopters fired on the kidnappers as their vehicle convoy approached the Malian border.[46] Boko Haram never claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, even though one of its members was reportedly involved.

In 2011, AQIM may have moved from recruiting sub-Saharan Africans to overseeing them form their own groups with indigenous ideologies that appealed to sub-Saharan Africans in a way that AQIM’s ideology did not.[47] The two sub-Saharan African groups, Ansaru and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), likely conducted their first kidnapping operations in May 2011 and October 2011, respectively, while MUJAO announced its formation in a video statement in December 2011 and Ansaru through flyers distributed in Kano in January 2012. The two groups were independent of AQIM in name, but MUJAO’s military commander was long-time AQIM kidnapping mastermind Oumar Ould Hamaha, an Arab from northern Mali and a relative of Belmokhtar’s, and Ansaru is suspected of being led by Khalid al-Barnawi, who fought under Belmokhtar in Mauritania and Algeria in the mid-2000s and carried out kidnappings in Niger.[48] Both Ansaru and MUJAO adopted names reflecting their desired areas of operations, Biladis Sudan (Black Africa) and Gharb Afriqqiya (West Africa), respectively, and considered themselves to be the “ideological descendants” of Usman dan Fodio and other pre-colonial West African Islamic leaders who “fought the colonial invaders,” although in practice Ansaru operated in northern Nigeria and MUJAO operated in Mali, Senegal, Algeria and Mauritania.[49]

Evidence suggests that Ansaru and MUJAO may have been among the elite units Belmokhtar trained for attacking Western interests in the Sahel.[50] Ansaru, for example, followed Belmokhtar’s kidnapping style by infiltrating foreign energy companies and targeting European employees whose countries were susceptible to ransoms and political demands.[51]

If not for the French-led military operation in northern Mali, the relationship between Belmokhtar and the two sub-Saharan groups would likely have continued, although both groups may have become more independent with the development of their own media wings, ideologies, and in Ansaru’s case leadership in Nigeria outside of AQIM’s area of operations. According to Nigerian intelligence documents, an “Algerian terrorist group” and Boko Haram had a “long-term partnership,” whereby the Algerian group would provide Boko Haram with installments of $250,000 and select Boko Haram members for training in kidnapping and bomb-making so the Boko Haram members could kidnap “white” expatriates in Nigeria and transfer the hostages to hideouts in the desert in exchange for more money and arms from the Algerians.[52] These Boko Haram members may have been Abu Muhammed and other Nigerians involved in the kidnappings in Kebbi in May 2011 and the Algerian group may have been Belmokhtar’s men.

The discovery that hundreds of Nigerian militants were in northern Mali and that Ansaru flyers were found in Belmokhtar’s compound in Gao the day after he fled the city suggests that Belmokhtar’s connection to Ansaru was still strong at the time of the French-led military intervention in February 2013.[53]

Why Ansaru, Not Boko Haram?
AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel offered “consolation” to Boko Haram after the clashes with Nigerian security forces in July 2009 left Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf and 1,000 of his followers dead.[54] In February 2010, Droukdel also offered to provide Boko Haram with “men, arms and ammunition” to “defend” Nigerian Muslims against the “Christian minority”[55] in Nigeria.[56] In July 2010, before the one year anniversary of the July 2009 clashes, Yusuf’s former deputy, Abubakar Shekau, emerged from hiding and “sent condolences” from the mujahidin in Nigeria to key al-Qa`ida leaders, including Usama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the amir of AQIM, and warned the United States that “jihad has just begun.”[57] This and subsequent statements from Shekau showed that Boko Haram identified with al-Qa`ida’s ideology, but that Boko Haram was “waging jihad in the country called Nigeria.”[58]

From July 2009 until Boko Haram launched its first attack in September 2010, many Boko Haram members retreated to Nigeria’s borderlands with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, and solicited, according to one report, as much as 40%[59] of their funding from abroad.[60] From September 2010 until August 2011, Boko Haram attacks escalated as President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was inaugurated in Abuja in April 2011, and with Boko Haram’s first vehicle-borne suicide bombings at the Federal Police Headquarters and UN Headquarters in Abuja in June and August 2011.[61] In August 2011, Nigeria and Niger confirmed that increasing numbers of Boko Haram members were receiving weapons from AQIM and traveling to Niger for training with AQIM.[62]

AQIM’s support may have helped Boko Haram evolve from a Taliban-inspired religious movement under Yusuf into a full-fledged militant movement under Shekau. There were several factors, however, that likely compelled AQIM to coordinate kidnapping operations in Nigeria with Ansaru, rather than with Boko Haram.

First, Boko Haram has always said that it does not carry out kidnappings and, at least until February 2013, did not carry out kidnappings or target Western personnel or institutions—with the exception of the attack on the UN Headquarters in Abuja in August 2011.[63] This would have made it difficult for Belmokhtar to coordinate with Boko Haram since his operations almost exclusively targeted Western personnel and facilities.

Second, Boko Haram was based in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State, which borders Niger but is more than 1,000 miles from northern Mali, where some of AQIM’s brigades were based. In contrast, Ansaru was based in northwestern Nigeria, which is only 300 miles from Mali.[64] This suggests that Ansaru was in closer operational range to AQIM and Belmokhtar’s militants. Ansaru may have also avoided establishing cells in northeastern Nigeria because Boko Haram threatened to kill defectors.[65]

Third, even when Boko Haram targeted churches and government offices, the casualties often included more Muslim civilians than Christians or government employees.[66] This may have alienated AQIM’s leadership, which broke away from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria in the late 1990s because it killed many Algerian civilians during the country’s civil war. Instead, AQIM’s leadership focused on targeting the Algerian government and security forces in rural areas and international interests, including the United Nations, and kidnapping Westerners.

Finally, AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel reportedly dismissed Belmokhtar as a result of him “straying from the right path,” in the words of one Malian official, and focusing on criminal activities and kidnappings.[67] This may have facilitated Belmokhtar’s support of Khalid al-Barnawi—who also feuded with members of AQIM in Algeria over kidnappings in Nigeria[68]—at the expense of Shekau, who had a closer historical connection to Droukdel.

Even if France and its West African allies have driven AQIM out of northern Mali, Ansaru and Boko Haram are likely self-sustainable and able to continue attacks. Ansaru relies mostly on its proven kidnapping expertise, and Boko Haram on assassinations and attacks on soft targets.[69] Both Ansaru and Boko Haram will also likely recruit militants who fought and obtained new skills from warfare in Mali. The Boko Haram attack on an army barracks in Monguno, Borno State, on March 3, 2013, in which the militants mounted weapons on four-wheel-drive vehicles, and the discovery of improvised fighting vehicles in a raid on a Boko Haram hideout in Maiduguri, Borno State, on March 9, 2012, suggest that Boko Haram has already learned new methods of fighting from the Islamist militants in Mali.[70]

An increase in the number of recruits from other West African countries or Nigerians with experience in Mali could also enable Ansaru and Boko Haram to carry out attacks or kidnappings in southern Nigeria or in Nigeria’s neighboring countries of Benin, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon in revenge for these countries’ support of the French-led intervention.[71] Shekau’s personal exposure to the war in Mali or, if he did not take refuge in Gao, his contacts to militants who returned to Nigeria from Mali could cause him to adopt a more regional view of the insurgency.[72] Shekau’s approval of a Boko Haram cell’s kidnapping of a seven-member French family in northern Cameroon on February 19, 2013, shows that Shekau no longer prohibits targeting foreign interests and that some Boko Haram cells are shifting toward Ansaru’s strategy.[73] Moreover, Shekau’s warning that Boko Haram will attack Cameroon if it continues to arrest Boko Haram members could signify an expansion of the insurgency while also deterring other countries, such as Niger and Chad, from cracking down on Boko Haram cells operating on their territory.

Finally, if Ansaru and Boko Haram are strained for resources as a result of AQIM’s retreat from northern Mali, the two groups may look past their differences and cooperate. Since Ansaru announced its formation in January 2012, Boko Haram has tried to distance itself from the perception that it kills Muslim civilians.[74] Ansaru and Boko Haram still revere Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf, and their members may move fluidly between groups and form partnerships to target mutual enemies: the Nigerian government, France and the West. They may also collaborate on refining their tactics as well as expanding their areas of operations to locate new targets and eliminate Western and Christian influence from Nigeria and the region.[75]

Jacob Zenn is an analyst of African and Eurasian affairs for The Jamestown Foundation, and is a Senior Regional Analyst of Courage Services, INC. He authored “Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The Prize in al-Qaeda’s Africa Strategy,” which was published by The Jamestown Foundation in November 2012, and conducted field research in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in June 2012. He speaks Arabic, French and Swahili.

[1] The group Boko Haram identifies itself as Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li al-Da`wa wa al-Jihad, which is Arabic for “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” The term “Boko Haram” means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language in Nigeria.

[2] “Boko Haram Has Killed 3,000 People, Says Army Chief,” ThisDayLive, November 6, 2012; “Boko Haram Attacks Cripple Northern Nigeria’s Economy,” IRIN, February 12, 2013.

[3] Boko Haram’s first attack with the name Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li al-Da`wa wa al-Jihad was on September 7, 2010, when approximately 50 fighters attacked Bauchi prison and freed more than 150 Boko Haram members. An additional 500 prisoners were also freed, some of whom joined Boko Haram. Before 2010, Boko Haram was known as the “Nigerian Taliban,” among other names. See Sani Muhd Sani, “Attack On Bauchi Prison – Boko Haram Frees 721 Inmates,” Leadership, September 8, 2010.

[4] Ansaru also refers to itself as JAMBS—the acronym for Jama`at Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilad al-Sudan. In Arabic, this means “Supporters of the Muslims in the Land of the Blacks.”

[5] Ansaru announced its “public formation” and break from Boko Haram in flyers distributed in Kano on January 26, 2012, which was six days after Boko Haram attacked government offices in Kano, leaving more than 150 civilians dead, mostly Muslims. See “Boko Haram: Splinter Group, Ansaru Emerges,” Vanguard, February 1, 2012.

[6] “Boko Haram Leader ‘Imam Abubakar Shekau’ Message to President Jonathan,” Sahara Reporters, January 12, 2012; Ikechukwu Nnochiri, “We Are On Revenge Mission, Boko Haram Suspect Tells Court,” Vanguard, November 25, 2011; “Suspects Charged in Nigeria Bombing,” al-Jazira, December 25, 2011; Michael Olugbode, “Boko Haram Claims Killings in Borno,” ThisDayLive, September 22, 2010.

[7] “Boko Haram: Splinter Group, Ansaru Emerges.”

[8] Belmokhtar led an AQIM brigade in the Sahel from 2007 until he was reportedly dismissed from AQIM in late 2012. He continued to lead loyal fighters, however, and he masterminded the four-day siege at the gas plant at In Amenas, Algeria, in January 2013.

[9] Chadian forces claim to have killed Belmokhtar in northern Mali in March 2013, but this has not been confirmed.

[10] In all Ansaru video statements, its leader and members conceal their identities with veils and obscure their voices. Boko Haram, in contrast, shows leader Abubakar Shekau’s face in all of its videos. This shows that Ansaru does not want to reveal the identity of its leader.

[11] The militants’ Sahelian-style veils in the Kebbi proof-of-life videos, which are also worn by the militants on Ansaru’s website, differ from Boko Haram members who usually wear Western-style military fatigues. See Ansaru’s website at

[12] Mustapha Ould Limam Chaffi was the negotiator. See “Exclusif…Mort des deux otages occidentaux tués au Nigeria: Une source d’AQMI livre quelques details,” Agence Nouakchott d’Information, March 10, 2012.

[13] There are reports that a dispute over how to spend money given to Boko Haram by AQIM or from bank robberies caused the conflict between Abubakar Shekau, Abu Muhammed, and Khalid al-Barnawi. Shekau may have disagreed with the use of the money to fund kidnappings of foreigners instead of attacks on Nigerian targets. See Jide Ajani, “Horror in Sokoto – Al-Qaeda-Funded Group Killed Hostages,” Vanguard, March 11, 2012; Yusuf Alli, “Kabiru Sokoto Names Boko Haram’s Leaders,” The Nation, February 14, 2012; “Barnawi, Kambar: Qaeda-linked Militants with Boko Haram Ties,” Agence France-Presse, June 21, 2012.

[14] Yusuf Alli, “Why We Killed Briton, Italian—Suspect,” The Nation, March 10, 2012.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Midat Joseph et al., “Kidnappers – Why We Killed Briton, Italian Hostages,” Leadership, March 13, 2012; “Exclusive: Boko Haram Targets Julius Berger, Dantata & Sawoe Expatriates,” Premium Times, March 12, 2012.

[17] The U.S. designated al-Barnawi as a “global terrorist” in June 2012, and in November 2012 the UK Home Office minister proscribed Ansaru as a terrorist organization that is “anti-Nigerian government, anti-Western and broadly aligned with al-Qa`ida.” See “Barnawi, Kambar: Qaeda-linked Militants with Boko Haram Ties.”

[18] Rabi Ould Idamous, “Faltering al-Qaeda Turns to Boko Haram,” Magharebia, January 27, 2012; “Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram Commander Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar,” U.S. Department of State, June 21, 2012. Kambar was killed in a Nigerian security forces raid on his hideout in Kano in August 2012.

[19] “Power Tussle in Boko Haram Led to Sect Leader’s Arrest,” Leadership, March 26, 2012.

[20] This statement was corroborated by Boko Haram’s record of receiving funds from other sources, including bank robberies and car thefts. See Ajani; “Al-Qaeda Affiliates use Kidnapping for Revenue,” Magharebia, March 30, 2012.

[21] Ogala Emmanuel, “Five Things You Should Know About New Extremist Sect, ANSARU,” Premium Times, February 23, 2013.

[22] “MPs Pass Motion Outlawing Suspected Terror Group,” BBC, November 22, 2012.

[23] The prisoner was Filiz Gelowicz, and her husband is Fritz Gelowicz. The statement, written in English and Arabic, and video are available at

[24] Ibid.

[25] Aminu Abubakar, “Nigeria Detains 5 with ‘Al Qaeda-links’ over German Kidnap,” Agence France-Presse, March 27, 2012; Lawal Danuma, “Kidnapped German Killed in JTF Raid,” Daily Trust, May 31, 2012.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The statement in English and Arabic is available at

[28] Aminu Abubakar, “German Hostage Killed in Nigeria During Rescue Bid,” Agence France-Presse, May 31, 2012.

[29] The graphics and quality of Ansaru’s videos are significantly higher than Boko Haram’s videos, which suggest that Ansaru had a higher level of training in media and propaganda than Boko Haram or possibly exposure to AQIM’s professional media wing, al-Andalus. See “World Exclusive: Another Islamic Sect Emerges…to Counter Boko Haram?” Desert Herald, June 2, 2012; “Latest: Security Officials and Christians are Enemies of Islam and Muslims, We Will Target and Kill Them- Says Spokesman of Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladi Sudan, Abu Ja’afar,” Desert Herald, June 5, 2012; “Important Message From Jama`atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan,” November 26, 2012, available at; “Video of Introduction of Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis-Sudan,” November 9, 2012, available at

[30] Niyi Odebode et al., “Jaji, Abuja Terror Attacks: Army, Police Arrest 22 Officers,” Punch NG, December 1, 2012; “Declared of Jama`atu Ansaril Muslimina Fibiladis Sudan Garki II Abuja,” November 30, 2012, available at

[31] The attack freed the wife of Kabiru Sokoto, who was the mastermind of the Christmas Day church bombings outside of Abuja in December 2011 that killed more than 20 people. See Wisdom Patrick et al., “Gunmen Attack Police SARS Headquarters, Free 30 Suspects,” Daily Independent, November 27, 2012; “Glad Tidings, O Soldiers of Allah,” Ana al-Muslim Network, December 1, 2012; Taiwo Adisa, “Shekau, Boko Haram Leader, Escapes Arrest in Kano – Wife Arrested – Security Operatives Probe 2 Top Politicians over Sect’s Funding,” Nigerian Tribune, March 5, 2012.

[32] The Nigerian police claimed that only five prisoners escaped, while Ansaru alleged that the rescue operation freed 37 members and 286 other prisoners, who were subject to “real human rights violations,” including “extrajudicial killings,” “termites” and “a complete lack of water.”

[33] “Declared of Jama`atu Ansaril Muslimina Fibiladis Sudan Garki II Abuja.”

[34] “French Man Kidnap: Possibly an Inside Job – Katsina CP,” Vanguard, December 21, 2012.

[35] “Islamist Group Ansaru ‘Kidnapped’ French Man,” BBC, December 24, 2012. It is unknown what happened to the Frenchman, but he may have been taken across the border into Niger or Mali, where AQIM held six other French hostages.

[36] “Islamists Ansaru Claim Attack on Mali-bound Nigeria Troops,” Reuters, January 20, 2013.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Nigeria is unofficially divided into six geopolitical zones, with all 36 of the country’s states and Abuja Federal Capital Territory falling into one of the six zones. The zones do not represent ethnic or religious homogeneity and are broadly accepted in political discourse by almost all Nigerians. Kogi is in the North-Central zone, although geographically Okene, Kogi, is in the southern half of Nigeria. See “Combined Forces Raid Arrests Terror Suspects…Seizes 10 Ak47 Rifles, Smg, 3 Pistols, Anti-Tank Explosives, Ieds and Ammo Near Okene, Kogi State,” Beegeagle’s Blog, May 16, 2012.

[39] Suzan Edeh, “Bauchi Deadly Kidnapping: Gaping Bullet Holes in Expatriates’ Live Camp,” Vanguard, February 23, 2013.

[40] It is unclear whether three of the seven hostages were actually killed, since the video shows only four bodies. The Arabic and English statements are available at and “The Killing of Seven Christian Hostages in Nigeria,” March 11, 2013, available at

[41] Ansaru appears to have failed in two attempts to kidnap foreign engineers from separate construction sites in Tella, Taraba State, on February 28, 2013, and may have been behind the kidnapping of an Italian engineer in southern Nigeria’s Kwara State, where kidnappings are uncommon. Like the German engineer in Kano, the Italian was working on a road construction project when taken captive. The Italian was released in June 2012, but officials did not release details about the terms of the release. See “2 Nigerian Cops Killed in Aborted Kidnap of Foreigners,” PM News, February 28, 2013; “Italian Abducted in Nigeria Freed,” BBC, June 1, 2012.

[42] “Nigeria: Deadly Twist in Islamists’ War,” United Press International, March 15, 2012; Geoff D. Porter, “AQIM and the Growth of International Investment in North Africa,” CTC Sentinel 2:11 (2009).

[43] According to North Africa expert Dr. Geoff D. Porter, “One of the factors restraining the pace of AQIM’s operations in the Sahara and Sahel has been the lack of targets and the inability of AQIM members who are not from the region to move throughout the desert.” For details, see ibid. Also see Salima Tlemcani, “Révélations sur une organisation en déroute,” El Watan, August 1, 2007; Yarolslav Trofimov, “Islamic Rebels Gain Strength in the Sahara,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2009.

[44] In 2007, Nigeria arrested three of its citizens who had trained with AQIM (then called the GSPC) in Algeria from 2005 to 2007 and were planning to attack U.S. government buildings in Nigeria. See “Five Nigerians on Terror Charges,” BBC, November 23, 2007. AQIM featured sub-Saharan recruits in an August 2010 video with members speaking West African languages, such as Hassaniya Arabic of Mauritania, Fulani, Tuareg dialects, Guinean Portuguese, and Hausa, the common language of southern Niger and northern Nigeria. See “Summary and Analysis of al-Qa’idah in the Islamic Maghreb’s New Video Release ‘On The Occasion of Ramadan Fighting is Ordained for You,’”, August 22, 2010. A Beninese national of Yoruba ethnicity, Abdoulah Abdoulah, was reportedly a courier between AQIM and Boko Haram in Nigeria and involved in recruiting AQIM members from French-speaking West African countries. See “Ansar Dine Pursues Peace Talks, Mujao Names New Chief,” LeMag, January 3, 2012; “Mali: un Béninois à la tête d’une unité combattante, une katiba, dans le Nord,” Radio France Internationale, December 28, 2012. Belmokhtar used cigarette smugglers to establish contacts with African fighters. See Rabi Ould Idamous, “Faltering al-Qaeda Turns to Boko Haram,” Magharebia, January 27, 2012.

[45] Nathalie Guibert, “Comment sont morts les otages français du Niger,” Le Monde, January 6, 2012.

[46] A French investigation concluded that the Nigerian was from Boko Haram’s base city, Maiduguri, and his phone call logs showed that he was an intermediary between Boko Haram and AQIM in Nigeria, Niger and Mali. See “Two French Hostages in Niger Killed in Rescue Attempt,” BBC, January 8, 2011; “Une piste nigériane dans l’enquête sur la mort des deux otages français enlevés au Niger,” Radio France Internationale, November 14, 2011.

[47] “Brainstorming the Geopolitics of AQIM’s Moorish Appeal,” The Moor Next Door blog, August 25, 2009.

[48] Most reports, including from the U.S. State Department, say that al-Barnawi is from Borno State, Nigeria, although Radio France Internationale and Agence Nouakchott d’Information have reported that al-Barnawi is Nigerien. See Emmanuel.

[49] “New Qaeda Spin-Off Threatens West Africa,” Agence France-Presse, December 22, 2011; “Sénégal: Les Islamistes ‘sont à nos portes,” Jeune Afrique, August 7, 2012; “Route de Kati: Des présumés membres du Mujao arrêtés,”, March 7, 2013.

[50] Another possible link between Ansaru and AQIM comes from a letter sent to a Kano radio station “commending the jihad of our brothers that killed an American envoy and some non Muslims” after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which was linked to Belmokhtar and Libyan jihadists. See “Another Islamist Sect Surfaces In Kano, Threatens To Bomb Radio Station,” Sahara Reporters, September 16, 2012.

[51] Although the United Kingdom or the hostages’ families reportedly paid AQIM $1 million to release the two hostages in the Kebbi kidnapping and Germany released the female jihadist website administrator and recruiter from prison early, Ansaru did not free the hostages in either case. In addition, MUJAO reportedly received $18 million in June 2012 for the release of three hostages that it kidnapped in southwestern Algeria in October 2011. See Isa Saidu, “Before Killing Briton, Italian…‘Kidnappers Received N207 Million Ransom,’” Daily Trust, March 12, 2012; “German Terrorism Convict Granted Early Release,” Associated Press, April 24, 2012.

[52] While racism may have alienated some sub-Saharan Africans from AQIM and MUJAO’s Arab leadership, these reports do not seem to indicate that MUJAO would have completely separated from AQIM because of racism. Locals reported that “light-skinned” Arabs, Tuaregs, and sub-Saharan Africans from Niger, Nigeria, Mali and other countries fought together with AQIM in northern Mali up to the time of the French-led military intervention. Oumar Ould Hamaha also claimed that all militants fought in “the name of Islam, not Arab or Tuareg, or black or white,” and in a statement MUJAO said that the “Muslim brothers from all battalions have the same goal—jihad.” Belmokhtar’s “racism” may be explained by a statement attributed to him from August 2009 that he “wanted to attract black African recruits because they would agree more readily than Arabs to becoming suicide bombers and because poor economic and social conditions made them ripe for recruitment.” See Lydia Polgreen and Scott Sayare, “French Capture Strategic Airport in Move to Retake North Mali,” New York Times, January 26, 2012; “New Qaeda Spin-Off Threatens West Africa”; “Exclusive: Boko Haram Targets Julius Berger, Dantata & Sawoe Expatriates”; “Boko Haram Gets N40million Donation From Algeria,” Sahara Reporters, May 13, 2012.

[53] A picture of the flyer is available at See Lars Inge Staveland, “New Islamist Group May Be Affiliated With Al-Qa’ida,” Aftenposten, February 22, 2013; “Dozens of Boko Haram Help Mali’s Rebel Seize Gao,” Agence France-Presse, April 9, 2012; Drew Hinshaw, “Timbuktu Training Site Shows Terrorists’ Reach,” Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2013. AQIM’s reason for not publicizing its relationship to Ansaru or MUJAO could be explained by confidential letters written by AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel to other Islamist militants in Mali, which were uncovered in Timbuktu by the Associated Press. Droukdel wrote, “Better for you to be silent and pretend to be a ‘domestic’ movement…There is no reason for you to show that we have an expansionary, jihadi, al-Qaida or any other sort of project.” For the confidential letters, see “Al-Qaida’s Saharan Playbook,” Associated Press, February 15, 2013.

[54] “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Condolence, Support and Comfort for our Brothers and People in Nigeria 20/08/09,” available at; “North Africa Qaeda Offers to Help Nigerian Muslims,” February 1, 2010, available at

[55] Nigeria is split fairly evenly between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

[56] “North Africa Qaeda Offers to Help Nigerian Muslims.”

[57] In early 2011, other jihadists, such as the Algerian Abu Muslim al-Jazaari, urged Nigerians to follow the Islamic doctrines of “Unity and Jihad” and al-Qa`ida leaders, such as Abu Yahya al-Libi. As early as August 2009, Nigerians on jihadist forums began calling for “sustaining the dignity of the Sokoto jihad” and unifying with the “brothers of Chechnya, the unrelenting gladiators of Afghanistan, the fierce brothers of Iraq, the troops of Muwahhidin in Somalia and the Brigades of Unity [Tawhid] in Nigeria.” In April 2011, just as Boko Haram’s insurgency was underway, the “mujahidin brothers in Nigeria” also promised to “spearhead the call to global jihad against the apostates and their allies,” “open up a dungeon for Obama,” and “raise the banner for al-Qa`ida in the West Africa Province” for the brothers in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Niger. These postings seem to reflect both Shekau’s and Ansaru’s future statements. Separately, an al-Qa`ida in West Africa cell connected to al-Qa`ida central in Pakistan was reported in Kano in the mid-2000s, and Boko Haram members in Algeria reportedly connected with Usama bin Ladin through AQIM. Boko Haram, however, never formally affiliated with AQIM or al-Qa`ida central. In November 2011, a Boko Haram spokesman said that, “It is true we have links with al-Qa`ida. They assist us and we assist them. Any Muslim group that is struggling to establish an Islamic state can get support from al-Qa`ida if they reach out to them.” For all these details, see Abu Muslim al-Jazaari, “The Platform of Tawhid and Jihad,”, March 2011; “The Brigades of Tawhid in Nigeria,”, August 22, 2009; “From Your Mujahideen Brothers In Nigeria,”, April 2, 2011; “Periodical Review July 2010 – No. 2,” ICT’s Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group, August 2010; “Islamist Sect Website Claims Nigerian Bombings,” Agence France-Presse, December 28, 2010; “Nigeria Sect ‘Spokesman’ Claims Al-Qaeda Links,” Agence Presse-France, November 24, 2011; Tobi Soniyi, “Ashafa Admitted Al-Qaeda Link, Ex-SSS Boss Tells Court,” ThisDayLive, April 4, 2012.

[58] Imam Imam, “Jos Bombings – Group Claims Responsibility,” ThisDay, December 27, 2010.

[59] Slain Boko Haram leader Muhammad Yusuf’s family said in 2011 that 40% of the sect’s funding comes from outside Nigeria. See “Suspects Charged in Nigeria Bombing,” al-Jazira, December 25, 2011.

[60] Adam Nossiter, “Islamist Group With Possible Qaeda Links Upends Nigeria,” New York Times, August 17, 2011; Will Connors, “Al Qaeda Ties Seen for Nigeria Group,” Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2011; Hugo Odiogor, “Boko Haram: Battling Scourge of Migration and Terrorism in West Africa,” Vanguard, February 23, 2013.

[61]  The attack in Abuja mirrored AQIM’s attacks the next day against Algeria’s premier military academy at Cherchell on August 27, 2011, and also AQIM’s attack on the UN Headquarters in Algiers in 2007 and al-Qa`ida in Iraq’s (AQI) attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. The attack in Abuja was an anomaly to the Shekau faction’s targeting strategy, in which international targets have never been attacked. See “Nigerian Islamists Vow ‘Fiercer’ Attacks,” Agence France-Presse, June 15, 2011; “18 Dead in Algeria Military School Bombing: Ministry,” Agence France-Presse, August 27, 2011.

[62] “Lutte contre le terrorisme: le Nigeria et le Niger renforcent leur cooperation,” Radio France Internationale, August 11, 2011.

[63] The UN Headquarters attack in Abuja on August 26, 2011, was the only one of Boko Haram’s more than 700 attacks until 2013 against a target that was not Nigerian. In claiming the attack, a Boko Haram spokesman said, “The U.S. government has been collaborating with the Nigerian government to clamp down on our members nationwide.” See Adam Nossiter, “Islamic Group Says It Was Behind Fatal Nigeria Attack,” New York Times, August 28, 2011; “Boko Haram Spokesman Denies Link to Nigerian Kidnap,” Reuters, March 10, 2012.

[64] The author suspects that Ansaru may be based in the Middle Belt, possibly Kaduna, based on the following: Ansaru’s repeated e-mail statements to Kaduna-based Desert Herald newspaper, one of which threatened the southern Kaduna-based Christian militia group “Akhwat Akwop,” which, one week before Ansaru’s e-mail, had threatened to expel all Fulani herdsmen from southern Kaduna in one week; Ansaru’s common references to Christian “massacres” of Muslims in Middle Belt cities (southern Kaduna was the scene of some of the worst post-election violence in 2011); Ansaru’s possible Hausa-Fulani composition, which are ethnic groups that have come into frequent conflict with Christians in the Middle Belt; Ansaru’s attack on the Nigerian military convoy passing through Kogi State en route to a base in Kaduna from where the soldiers went to Mali; Ansaru’s connection to Kaduna-based Boko Haram Shura Council member Abu Muhammed in the Kebbi kidnapping in May 2011; and Ansaru’s possible following of Kaduna-based cleric, shaykh Ahmad Gumi, who has been Nigeria’s most vocal critic against the country’s military deployment to Mali. On the same day that Ansaru targeted the military convoy in Kogi, Gumi said in a sermon in Kaduna: “If the Christian leadership of Nigeria is plunging us into Mali for the same reason of hatred and prejudice against Islamists, this is the warning they should heed, because Islam is unconquerable…” See “Sheikh Again Defends His Stand On Troops Deployment To Mali,” Sahara Reporters, January 20, 2013; “Christian Militants In Southern Kaduna Threaten Fulani Herdsmen, Give Seven Days Evacuation Notice,” Sahara Reporters, June 5, 2012; “Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladi Sudan threatens Southern Kaduna Militant Group, Akhwat Akwop,” Desert Herald, June 11, 2012.

[65] Ansaru members may also have been ethnic Hausa-Fulanis from northwestern Nigeria who resented Borno-based and Kanuri-led Boko Haram. According to captured Boko Haram members, Abubakar Shekau, who is ethnically Kanuri, favored Kanuris of Borno State, while Nigeriens, Chadians, Cameroonians and Nigerian non-Kanuris were always chosen to carry out suicide bombings with the punishment of death for those who refused. Kanuris are the dominant ethnic group in Borno State, whereas Hausas and Fulanis are predominant ethnic groups throughout the rest of northern Nigeria. See Yusuf Alli, “How Bombers are Chosen, by Boko Haram Suspect,” The Nation, February 9, 2012; “Boko Haram: Six Killed in Factional Clash,” ThisDayLive, February 3, 2012.

[66] Boko Haram’s coordinated attacks on government offices in Kano on January 20, 2012, killed 180 people, including more than 150 Muslim civilians. In addition, Boko Haram’s attacks on churches in Kaduna on Easter 2012 killed mostly Muslim motorcycle taxi riders, women, and children outside of the church. See “More Muslims are Killed than Christians – Joji, Arewa Chief,” Vanguard, May 13, 2012.

[67] “Al-Qaeda’s N. Africa Branch Reshuffles Leadership,” Agence Presse-France, October 15, 2012.

[68] “Barnawi, Kambar: Qaeda-linked Militants with Boko Haram Ties.”

[69] “Boko Haram Upgrading Weapons from IEDs to RPGs, Police Says,” Punch NG, July 15, 2012.

[70] “20 Boko Haram Islamists Killed in Borno,” Vanguard, March 3, 2013; Maina Maina, “JTF Kills 52 Boko Haram Militants, Arrests 70, Recovers Arms in Borno,” Daily Post, March 9, 2013.

[71] Just as Nigeriens would help Boko Haram attack Niger and Cameroonians would help Boko Haram attack Cameroon, ethnically Yoruba Boko Haram members like Abdoulah Abdoulah could help Boko Haram establish cells for attacking southern Nigeria. See Maud Descamps, “Boko Haram tente d’enrôler la jeunesse,” Europe1, February 28, 2013; “Niger Police Arrest Five Suspected Boko Haram Members,” Vanguard, September 27, 2012; “Ansar Dine Pursues Peace Talks, Mujao Names New Chief.”

[72] A March 1, 2013, video of Shekau that was distributed to journalists in northern Nigeria shows six camouflaged militants in a forest sitting with Shekau speaking in what seems to be the Kanuri language (not Hausa or Arabic). This contrasts with Boko Haram’s November 27, 2012, video, in which Shekau is training with militants in a desert and speaking in Arabic. This could signal that Shekau has returned to Borno State from northern Mali. In addition, in Boko Haram’s March 15, 2013, video, Shekau claimed to be standing next to weapons stolen from the Nigerian security forces during an attack on the Monguno army barracks on March 13, 2013, which, if true, would mean that he is likely in Borno State. See “Uncovered: Boko Haram Base Traced to Mali – Intelligence Report Identifies Training, Operational Base,” The Sun, October 27, 2012; “Shekau, Boko Haram Leader, Denies Ceasefire in Beheading Video,” Vanguard, March 6, 2013.

[73] Abubakar Shekau claimed the kidnapping in a Hausa and Arabic language video statement dated March 15, 2013, but released on March 18, 2013, in which he said, “We have a mission of establishing Shari`a in this country and the rest of the world. We are the ones holding hostage the seven French nationals because the leaders of Cameroon and Nigeria have also detained our brethren both women and children under dehumanizing conditions. These seven French people will not be released until when we see our detained brethren released…” While the kidnapping seems to contradict the Boko Haram spokesman’s claim after Ansaru’s first kidnapping that Boko Haram does not engage in hostage-taking, Boko Haram’s demands for prisoners, not money, in exchange for the French family is consistent with the spokesman’s statement that Boko Haram does not ask for ransoms. Shekau’s wife was also arrested in northern Nigeria in 2012, and Shekau’s demand for the release of imprisoned women in exchange for the French family may relate to his wife, who the security forces may be keeping captive to pressure Shekau. See Ola Audu, “Boko Haram Threatens JTF Spokesperson, Demands Prisoners Exchange for French Nationals,” Premium Times, March 18, 2013.

[74] Since Ansaru’s formation, Boko Haram has repeatedly stated that it only targets the Nigerian government and security forces, Christians and informants and said that the Nigerian Joint Task Force is to blame for the deaths of civilians. The Boko Haram suicide attack at a bus station in a Christian area of Kano on March 18, 2013, in which an estimated 25 to 60 people were killed, shows that Boko Haram still carries out mass casualty attacks, but tries to kill mostly Christians. See Michael Olugbode, “Boko Haram Calls JTF a Liar,” ThisDay, March 12, 2013; Abdulsalam Muhammad, “60 Killed in Kano Bus Park Bombing,” Vanguard, March 19, 2013.

[75] The father of the family that was kidnapped in  northern Cameroon worked for an energy company in Yaounde, Cameroon, although it is not known whether this was merely a coincidence. If the father was targeted due to his occupation, this suggests that the kidnappers from Boko Haram followed Ansaru’s strategy to target foreign engineers, and that the kidnappers may have been tipped off, as was the case in other Ansaru kidnappings. Separately, a Boko Haram cell uncovered in Sokoto on March 13, 2013, in which Boko Haram Shura Council member Habibu Yusuf, also known as “Asalafi,” was captured, shows that Boko Haram cells are operating in Ansaru’s main area of operations in northwestern Nigeria. Similarly, Ansaru’s kidnapping in Bauchi State shows that Ansaru is operating in Boko Haram’s main area of operations in northeastern Nigeria. If, as reported, “Asalafi” was a follower of Khalid al-Barnawi, this could be another sign of collaboration and fluidity between Boko Haram and Ansaru members. See “FG Places N50m Bounty on Boko Haram Leader,” Punch NG, November 24, 2012; “How We Weakened Boko Haram, Killed Bomb Expert, Others By Ihejirika,” Guardian [Lagos], March 16, 2013; “Nigeria: Taking the Hostage Road,” Africa Confidential, March 15, 2013; “Boko Haram, Ansaru Target Lagos, Others,” Punch NG, February 23, 2013.

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