After a nearly one-year-long “courtship process”[1] that began when Boko Haram[2] leader Abu Bakr Shekau claimed the Chibok kidnapping in May 2014, on March 7, 2015, Shekau pledged baya`a[3] to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi via his spokesman accepted Shekau’s baya`a and renamed the group as the Islamic State’s Wilayat[4] West Africa, thereby rendering “Boko Haram” obsolete. In the next two months, ten other Islamic State wilayat in Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq issued videos praising Shekau’s baya`a.[5] Wilayat West Africa became the most significant of the Islamic State’s more than 30 claimed wilayat in terms of number of militants, territory controlled, and operational capacity.[6]

However, in early February 2015, as the courtship process between Boko Haram and the Islamic State was in the final stage, the Nigerian and neighboring country militaries launched a large-scale offensive against Boko Haram in the “Islamic State” in northeastern Nigeria that Shekau had declared in 2014.[7] Together, they expelled the new Wilayat West Africa from almost all of the more than 25 towns that the militants had occupied.

Boko Haram over-extended in its bid to follow the model of the Islamic State’s ”core” leadership and hold territory and engage in conventional warfare. In declaring Boko Haram’s own “Islamic State” and announcing his “support” for al-Baghdadi, Shekau had shown his admiration of the Islamic State’s territorial conquests in Syria and Iraq. Thus, from the beginning of the courtship process in May 2014, Boko Haram had shifted tactics by trying to hold territory for the first time since the start of the insurgency in 2010.

But the new Wilayat West Africa that was announced in March 2015 was  shrinking not expanding. The militants fled from most of the territory Boko Haram had held. One of the side-effects of the military offensive, however, was that some militants appear to have responded to the military pressure by strengthening relationships with Islamic State wilayat in Libya.

Wilayat West Africa is a far from finished force, however, and can still engage in asymmetric warfare. The next phase of the insurgency in Nigeria and the Lake Chad sub-region[8] will likely feature a Wilayat West Africa determined to re-establish enough territorial control to support the narrative that it has a “state”. However,  Nigeria’s new President Muhammed Buhari will also prioritize cross-border military and political cooperation with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger as well as anti-corruption and soft measures to “encircle” Wilayat West Africa and prevent the militants from reclaiming their lost “Islamic State” in the Nigeria-Cameroon border region.

This article will discuss how Wilayat West Africa militants responded to the military offensive and analyze the extent to which the militants were able to withstand the offensive tactically, strategically, and in terms of morale. The article also examines Wilayat West Africa’s attacks in Chad after the military offensive, which for the first time showed signs of cooperation from the Islamic State’s ”core” leadership. Finally, the article assesses reports of Wilayat West Africa militants mixing with other Islamic State wilayat in Libya and whether an operational or command-and-control relationship exists.

Each section of the article also highlights the role of “post-Ansaru”[9] networks (militants formerly in the faction Ansaru, who reintegrated with Boko Haram and played the lead role in managing Boko Haram’s courtship process) in enabling Boko Haram’s evolution into Wilayat West Africa today.

The article challenges the notion that Shekau’s baya`a “changed nothing” and suggests that while the Islamic State’s impact on Wilayat West Africa is thus far most easily seen in media and propaganda (and, of course, Boko Haram’s new name), an operational relationship already exists.[10] Moreover, there have been suggestions from a source with a record of inside knowledge that in the Islamic State hierarchy Shekau now reports to a new overall emir of Wilayat West Africa, who is a Libyan and former Mali-based militant in Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mourabitoun.[11] Nonetheless, the Islamic State still recognizes Shekau as the titular head, or wali, of Wilayat West Africa.[12]

Reorganizing After the Military Offensive
The military offensive led to immediate battlefield losses for Wilayat West Africa. An estimated 30 percent of its 10,000 to 20,000 militants were killed. Among those militants killed were several key members of the new Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation, who previously were part of Boko Haram’s “post-Ansaru” network and collaborated with the Islamic State media operative Shaybah al-Hamad and Tunisia-based Africa Media[13] to run the “al-Urhwa al-Wutqha”[14] twitter account. This account served as the public platform for the final phase of the courtship process, including the audio recording of Shekau’s baya`a. The deaths of members of the media team likely led to a downturn in Wilayat West Africa media output for nearly two months after Shekau’s baya`a, while the Wilayat West Africa’s battlefield losses upset the intended plan of the militants to advertise the territory they had controlled.[15]

As a result of the military offensive, many militants had also abandoned bases in northeastern Nigeria, where they had previously stored weapons, trained, and held captive hundreds of female “servants”, cooks, and porters (but apparently none of the more than 250 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls). The militants were seen leaving Nigerian border towns near Cameroon and, in one case, even walked across a bridge into Cameroon. Aerial footage also showed dozens of militants escaping in convoys from Boko Haram’s main “armory” in the Sambisa Forest of Borno State.[16]

Despite these setbacks, when Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation became active again in June 2015, it incorporated into its messaging strategy the most prevalent narrative of the Islamic State: that it is “always winning” and “in control of territory” that constitutes a state.[17] Nonetheless, the reduction in Wilayat West Africa attacks after the military offensive, the dispersal of militants, and the non-appearance of Shekau after his baya`a (which may have been for strategic reasons) led to an impression that “Boko Haram” was “defeated” and that the baya`a was a “desperate attempt” to “distract attention” (even though the baya`a was in process for nearly a year before the offensive).[18]

But the loss of territory did not destroy the resolve of Wilayat West Africa. In an Islamic State-styled April 22, 2015 statement, militants appeared to accept that they had suffered losses to the “crusader African alliance” knowing they were preparing for a new phase of asymmetric warfare once military pressure returned to regular levels. Boko Haram had after all bounced back after military offensives in July 2009 and May 2013. In addition, the Islamic State-supported “upgrade” of Wilayat West Africa’s media enabled the militants to portray to followers that they still controlled a “state” even if it was not true.

Thus, the military offensive and President  Buhari’s renewed commitment to countering the insurgency did not deal to the militants the decisive blow that leaders in the outgoing administration anticipated. However, it did eliminate Wilayat West Africa’s capacity to engage in conventional warfare and hold territory.[19]

Tactics, Strategy and Morale
On the tactical level, with Wilayat West Africa forced from its bases and under pressure, the militants increased suicide attacks on soft targets, with a focus on deploying young girls.[20] The more than 60 females (some were elderly women) who attempted suicide attacks in Borno State and Cameroon from early February 2015 through August 2015 likely sustained that unprecedented frequency because elements of the “post-Ansaru” network in Cameroon, who have been largely immune to the Borno-focused offensive, masterminded some of the attacks.[21]

“Post-Ansaru” networks were also likely involved in the expansion of female suicide attacks to the Lake Chad “sub-region,” including from Borno State to Diffa, Niger. Two girls carried out suicide attacks in Diffa on February 8 and two girls again on February 11 just as Niger and Chad were preparing to launch offensives against Boko Haram in Nigerian territory. Those attacks in Diffa followed a threat to attack Niger and Chad that was written in the name of both Boko Haram and al-Urhwa al-Wutqha, but likely drafted by pro-Islamic State Africa Media, which cooperated with the “post-Ansaru” network to run the al-Urhwa al-Wutqha twitter account that posted the threat.[22] The expansion of this tactic into Cameroon, which saw two tandem female suicide attacks in Fotokol and then one tandem female suicide attack in Maroua and another solo attack in Maroua all in July 2015, may also have been the result of a pre-existing “post-Ansaru”-Boko Haram nexus between Borno State and Cameroon.[23]

The spate of these five female suicide bombings in Cameroon (as well as several failed attempts) coincided with an increase in overall attacks in Nigeria. By July 2015—five months after the start of the military offensive—the militants were no longer pinned down in towns they occupied, and expanded the geographic range of their attacks to northwestern Nigeria for the first time since Boko Haram began to hold territory in June 2014.[24] They launched attacks not only in strongholds in Borno and neighboring Yobe State, but also in Jos, Zaria, and Gombe in the “Middle Belt” and northern Nigeria’s largest city of Kano.[25]

Like the female suicide attacks, the attacks outside of Borno and Yobe States were probably the result of Shekau’s alliances with “post-Ansaru” networks, whose operational range since the start of the insurgency in 2009 encompassed parts of the “Middle Belt” and Kano. These areas are outside of the majority Kanuri parts of Yobe and Borno and Lake Chad where Shekau’s influence is strongest. The intended strategic effect of attacks in northwestern Nigeria was likely to force the Nigerian military to redeploy troops from Borno State to other parts of the country, weaken the intensity of military offensive in Borno, and provide an opportunity for Wilayat West Africa to regain control of enough territory to be able to portray a narrative that it is a “state.” But the inability of Wilayat West Africa to sustain the attacks in northwest Nigeria after the arrest in Gombe (a base of the “post-Ansaru” network) of a mastermind of these attacks in July suggests that the militant network in the “Middle Belt” and Kano was not strong.[26]

A final reason why Wilayat West Africa sustained its capabilities after the military offensive was that few of its leaders were eliminated, especially the key traffickers who are based in Cameroon and Chad in relative safety (one exception, however, was Chad’s arrest of Bana Fanaye[27] in N’djamena on June 29, 2015).[28] Shekau himself has likely adopted a lower profile now that he is a wali of an Islamic State “province,” but his first post-baya`a appearance—an audio message on August 16, 2015—was likely necessary to affirm to his followers that he was alive.[29] The fact that there were relatively few defections or surrenders immediately after the military offensive suggests that foot soldiers’ morale remained high enough to continue waging an insurgency, even if Shekau’s baya`a may have alienated an influential minority of militants who opposed the decision.[30]

Convergence in Chad
Prior to the military offensive, the “post-Ansaru” network ran weapons trafficking operations from Libya through Chad and Cameroon to supply Boko Haram in Nigeria.[31] But its most significant operations were in Cameroon, where in coordination with Boko Haram—and using the group’s official name name (and probably a “fake Shekau” in its claims)—it kidnapped 22 foreigners and several dozen Cameroonians between 2013 and 2014.[32] Niger and Chad only became consistent targets for Boko Haram in February 2015, when Boko Haram threatened on the al-Urhwa al-Wutqha twitter account to launch attacks in those two countries and carried out the back-to-back tandem female suicide bombings in Diffa on February 8 and February 11. Boko Haram then carried out and claimed on the same twitter account cross-border attacks on islands of Niger and Chad on Lake Chad.[33]

After Shekau’s baya`a in March 2015, with the majority of Boko Haram and other “post-Ansaru” networks united under Wilayat West Africa, the militants further expanded their attacks in Cameroon, Niger and Chad.[34] However, the four suicide attacks in N’djamena, Chad in June 2015, including two simultaneous ones at the police academy and police headquarters, were most significant because of the role that the Islamic State’s “core” media team played in propagandizing them.[35] They were also a way for Wilayat West Africa to retaliate against Chad for participating in the regional coalition in Nigeria. Like the female suicide attacks and bombings in northwestern Nigeria, the attacks in Chad were facilitated by the “post-Ansaru” network, such as Bana Fanaye (the trafficker mentioned above), whose cell shifted its operations from logistics, recruitment, and trafficking to also include suicide bombings in N’djamena.[36]

Wilayat West Africa in Libya
As Islamic State claims of Wilayat West Africa operations in Chad were released in July 2015, there were also reports in north and west Africa that Wilayat West Africa militants were mixing with Islamic State militants in Libya. By August 2015 a trend started to become apparent from information gleaned via reports from diverse sources and countries.[37] This would be a major development: growing interactions and greater trust between Wilayat West Africa and Islamic State wilayat in Libya beyond their mutual loyalty to al-Baghdadi would further integrate the new Wilayat West Africa into the broader Islamic State system.

There were, for example, several Islamic State supporters in Barqa, who wrote on twitter that “Shekau’s followers” traveled to Darna (a city near Barqa in eastern Libya) to support the Islamic State in its battles with rival factions and pro-al-Qa`ida militants.[38] These reports were consistent with other reports from Libya that 80 to 200 Wilayat West Africa militants were in the Islamic State’s “third capital” of Sirte (after al-Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq). Nigerian media also reported that the country’s military intelligence believes Shekau fled to North Africa and that Wilayat West Africa now reports to Syria or Iraq in the Islamic State hierarchy.[39] Algerian security forces also believe Wilayat West Africa is active in northern Niger, which borders Libya, together with 200 militants from MUJAO (MUJAO’S leader pledged baya`a to al-Baghdadi in July 2015 against Belmokhtar’s wishes, thus leading to the break-up of al-Mourabitoun).[40] The openness of migration routes from Nigeria through eastern Niger to Libya makes travel between the two wilayat fairly straightforward, and the Islamic State can easily afford to pay smugglers to carry militants (and weapons) along that route.

The movement of Wilayat West Africa militants to Libya has the potential to transform the “Islamic State landscape” in northwest Africa in at least three ways.

First, it could allow Wilayat West Africa to forge deeper and more operational ties with the Islamic State beyond the media relationship it already forged with Shaybah al-Hamad and Africa Media. For example, Wilayat West Africa’s ties to Islamic State’s “core” were likely strengthened when leading Islamic State militants and ideologues traveled to Libya, including the Bahraini Turki bin Ali, who arrived from Syria to Sirte as early as 2013.[41] Bin Ali reportedly opened “communication channels” with Wilayat West Africa through a southern Libya-based Malian militant.[42] Islamic State media operative Shaybah al-Hamad argued that this outreach helped prevent al-Qa`ida—presumably referring to Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mourabitoun, which in August 2015 affirmed it was al-Qa`ida—from “winning the favor of the mujahidin of Nigeria”.[43]

Second, Wilayat West Africa could acquire new militant training and skills from Islamic State militants whose insurgent experience dates to the start of the Iraq War in 2003 or earlier in the case of North African insurgencies. Videos uncovered from captured or killed Wilayat West Africa militants show that they are viewing weapons manufacturing and training video manuals from the Islamic State.[44] Negotiators who have been in Wilayat West Africa camps also say that Chadians who were formerly mercenaries for Muammar Qaddafi in Libya joined forces with Wilayat West Africa and operate its complex machinery, such as tanks stolen from the Nigerian army. “Light-skinned” (referring to North Africans) militants have also overseen hostages and been reported in camps for training female suicide bombers.[45]

Third, Wilayat West Africa and the Islamic State’s Libyan wilayat can coordinate attacks in Nigeria and the Lake Chad sub-region. Several attacks since Africa Media and Boko Haram launched the al-Urhwa al-Wutqha twitter account in January 2015 have indicated this, including the back-to-back female suicide attacks in Diffa in February 2015 and the five suicide bombings in N’djamena in June 2015.[46] The Islamic State will likely also continue to encourage Wilayat West Africa to carry out attacks throughout the Lake Chad sub-region to demonstrate that it is a “West African” and not a “Nigerian” movement. Nonetheless, an attack on a high-profile foreign target in Nigeria would garner the most international media attention. The Islamic State’s need to rival Belmokhtar’s al-Mourabitoun, whose area of operations is still mostly in Mali and Niger but potentially could reach Nigeria, will likely accelerate Wilayat West Africa’s importance in the context of the overall Islamic State versus al-Qa`ida global rivalry.

This article showed that after Shekau’s baya`a Wilayat West Africa encountered setbacks but withstood and adapted to the military offensive. After a courtship process that began as early as the Chibok kidnapping in April 2014, Wilayat West Africa also merged its media team into the Islamic State’s “centrally decentralized” propaganda structure.[47] Other effects of Shekau’s baya`a included Shekau taking a less visible role in Wilayat West Africa.

However, the most important impact of Shekau’s baya`a is that it furthered the message that the Islamic State is “expanding” (tatamadad), which is one of the two main components of the Islamic State’s master narrative (the other being “remaining” in Syria and Iraq, or baqiya). As a result of Shekau’s baya`a, the Islamic State now has a much stronger position in Africa.[48] Thus, the prospect for the Islamic State to supersede al-Qa`ida on the African continent is foreseeable, although Belmokhtar’s al-Mourabitoun could become al-Qa`ida’s answer to Wilayat West Africa. Nonetheless, the legitimacy that Wilayat West Africa affords the Islamic State will continue to make it worthwhile for the Islamic State to continue to invest in Wilayat West Africa’s sustainability.

One trend to watch out for is how Wilayat West Africa manages its identity as a “West African”—as opposed to ostensibly a Nigerian—militant group. The Malians, Mauritanians, and Algerians in MUJAO will presumably follow the Islamic State’s “IMU model”[49] and merge into Wilayat West Africa (possibly with MUJAO’s leader responsible for the Sahel and Shekau responsible for the Lake Chad sub-region). Furthermore, Wilayat West Africa’s overall leadership in Libya that reports to Syria will further dilute its Nigerian-ness. This may be a cause for dissent from former Boko Haram militants, who desire an “Islamic State” and seek the redress of perceived Nigerian government injustices but do not want to submit to the command of al-Baghdadi.[50]

Given the apparent unity of Boko Haram behind Shekau’s baya`a, however, it appears that dissenting militants are likely small in number but may retain outsized influence, especially if Belmokhtar’s former comrade and Ansaru founder Khalid al-Barnawi is among them. Moreover, al-Mourabitoun could present a viable alternative to Wilayat West Africa if Belmokhtar “empowers” Nigerian militants to take leading roles like he did with al-Barnawi in the GSPC[51] in the 2000s. Belmokhtar could convince “post-Ansaru” network militants to leave Shekau and return to the al-Qa`ida fold and offer an opportunity for Boko Haram militants who refuse to follow Shekau’s lead to receive external support and re-build their ranks.[52]

One final way Shekau’s baya`a and the re-branding of Boko Haram as a “West African” movement could prove instrumental—and clever—is if the Nigerian military succeeds in the military offensive and wins the war against “Boko Haram.” In such a case, Wilayat West Africa could attempt to hold territory in Nigeria’s weaker neighbors, such as Diffa, Niger, northern Cameroon, or an increasingly insecure northern Mali. The brand “Wilayat West Africa” may then serve Boko Haram in the same way that the brand “Islamic State” can serve al-Baghdadi’s militants if, for example, Islamic State is defeated in Syria and Iraq and its “core” relocates to the “third capital”—Sirte, Libya. Then the “core” would be able to maintain the master narrative of “remaining” and “expanding” to Libya, while also becoming a closer neighbor of its Wilayat West Africa brethren.

Jacob Zenn is an independent analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs, fellow of The Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC, and consultant in strategic communications to counter violent extremism. This article is based on fieldwork Mr. Zenn carried out in Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria between March and August 2015. 

 [1] The first visible signal that the “courtship process” began was on May 5, 2014, when in the prologue of the first of two videos where Shekau claimed the kidnapping of 250 schoolgirls from Chibok on behalf of Boko Haram, he shot a gun up in the air in the model of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and chanted multiple times “Dawlat al-Islam baqiya… Dawlat al-Islam qamat (The Islamic State remains….The Islamic State is established)”, which are distinct slogans of the Islamic State. Shekau also held up his index finger (an Islamic State symbol for monotheism (tawheed)), while his followers in the video, who also hold up their index fingers, repeated the chants after Shekau. Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi (a successor of al-Zarqawi) declared the “Caliphate” in June 2014. Between then and November 2014 Islamic State praised the “Nigerian mujahidin” for the Chibok kidnapping.

[2] The actual name of Boko Haram was “Jama’atu Ahl Sunnah Liddaawati Wal Jihad.” It means “Sunni (Muslim) Group for Preaching and Jihad”in Arabic. “Boko Haram” means “Western Education (or Civilization) is Blasphemous” in the Hausa language, and was a name used by the media to describe the group, but not the group itself

[3] The baya`a is a pledge that leaders of militant groups give to Abubakr al-Baghdadi signifying that (at least in theory) the territory under their control belongs to al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate, the Islamic State.

[4] Wilayat is an Arabic word that translates to “province” in English. The Islamic State refers to the militant groups whose leaders pledge to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by the wilayat, or territory, that they (in theory) control. As of mid-August 2015, there were 39 claimed Islamic State wilayat around the world, with the highest concentration in Syria and Iraq.

[5] Among Islamic State supporters, Shekau’s baya`a was the most hyped in advance and praised post-facto of all baya`as to al-Baghdadi from militant leaders since al-Baghdadi declared a Caliphate in June 2014.

[6] Terrorism scholar Daveed Gartenstein-Ross discussed how Shekau’s baya`a was “significant” in a series of tweets released on March 15, 2015.

[7] In Boko Haram’s “Islamic State” the militants commonly occupied government buildings and emirs’ palaces, carried out violent sharia punishments, destroyed churches, looted armories and other goods, and forced young boys and girls to join their ranks.

[8] The Lake Chad sub-region refers to Boko Haram’s and now Wilayat West Africa’s main area of operations and includes northeastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, southwestern Chad, and Diffa in southeastern Niger. Benin is also often categorized with these countries in terms of counterinsurgency efforts, although it does not border Lake Chad.

[9] As described in the article:  Jacob Zenn, “A Biography of Boko Haram and the Baya`a to al-Baghdadi” CTC Sentinel, 8:3 (March 2013), the faction Ansaru, which consisted of three GSPC, al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Middle Belt streams, became nearly defunct in 2013, and some of its militants reintegrated with Shekau in Boko Haram. Some “post-Ansaru” militants became part of Harakat al-Muhajirin, which focused on trafficking and kidnappings in Cameroon and Chad but still cooperated with Boko Haram before fusing with Boko Haram in Wilayat West Africa. The longstanding contacts that Ansaru networks maintained with North African former AQIM militants who abandoned AQIM in favor of the Islamic State in Syria and Libya may have facilitated the dialogue that was necessary to establish Shekau’s baya`a to al-Baghdadi. “Post-Ansaru” networks include Harakat al-Muhajirin and al-Urhwa al-Wutqha Media Foundation, which was likely developed by former Ansaru militants in Boko Haram and in coordination with the Islamic State. The name Harakat al-Muhajirin was first introduced by Fulan Nasrallah.

[10] Adelani Adepega, “Shekau’s allegiance to ISIS changes nothing – Nigerian Army,” Punch, March 9, 2015.

[11] Fulan Nasralla, “August 5th 2015 SITREP,” Fulan’s Sitrep Blog, August 5, 2015.

[12] Credible Islamic State twitter accounts released an audio recording of Shekau on August 16, 2015, which identified Shekau as the wali of Wilayat West Africa.

[13] Africa Media is an officially non-partisan but admittedly pro-Islamic State Tunisia-founded media outlet with a record of reliability and predicting Islamic State attacks (because of inside knowledge) in North Africa. Its hybrid militant-administrators published reports of Boko Haram’s “General Command” before Shekau’s baya`a to al-Baghdadi. Subsequently one of its militant-administrators, who claimed to have been in Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia but defected and became pro-Islamic State, wrote an article explaining how Africa Media was a liaison between Boko Haram and the Islamic State; however, according to the writer, the baya`a was delayed because of the “fanaticism of some individuals toward their old companions” (presumably “post-Ansaru” network militants, who were hesitantly leaving the al-Qa`ida fold). Africa Media also claimed to have been the liaison to the leader of MUJAO for his baya`a to al-Baghdadi.

[14] Al-Urhwa al-Wutqha (The Indissoluble Link), which refers to a verse in the Qur’an, was the name of the twitter account that Boko Haram adopted from January to March 2015 as the public platform for viewing videos, statements and messages from Boko Haram that hinted at Shekau’s forthcoming pledge of baya`a to al-Baghdadi. Thus, in the context of Boko Haram, al-Urhwa al-Wutqha refers to both the twitter account and the media foundation also called al-Urhwa al-Wutqha that distributed the videos, statements and messages. Al-Urhwa al-Wutqha, according to primary sources, was created by Africa Media, and its producers in Nigeria were likely part of the “post-Ansaru” network. Al-Urhwa al-Wutqha Media Foundation likely transformed into Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation and adopted a logo which was modeled after other Islamic State ‘provincial’ media foundations. See the section “2014-2015: Former AQIM Network Sets Stage for the Boko Haram-Islamic State Merger” in Zenn, “A Biography of Boko Haram and the Bay`a to al-Baghdadi.”

[15] Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation may not have issued statements for six weeks after Shekau’s baya`a because of the deaths of key members of its “Media Office.” After Shekau’s baya`a, Islamic State supporters on social media claimed that Wilayat West Africa repelled the military offensive of the “crusader African alliance” and that “#IS fighters” recaptured towns in northeastern Nigeria, but no formal statement from Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation emerged until April 22. That statement acknowledged that “soldiers of the Caliphate” were “martyred” while engaging in “ribat” in northeastern Nigeria. The statement showed a photo-list of the “martyrs” in a display style that—consistent with the courtship process—was identical to Islamic State media statements from Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other wilayat.

[16] “Boko Haram Fighters Fleeing NAF Aerial Bombardment In Sambisa Forest,” Sahara Reporters, May 3, 2015.

[17] Thus, Wilayat West Africa Media Foundation released a video on June 2 of a militant alleging that Wilayat West Africa still controlled Sambisa and other towns in Borno; on July 22, it released a video showing more than 500 militants and civilians praying together in Sambisa on Eid al-Fitr; and on August 2, it released a video of attacks in Yobe and Borno States. The June 2 and August 2 videos, however, included no ‘visual time-stamps’ to verify they were actually filmed after the military offensive. Jola Sutobo, “Terrorist caught spying on Yobe IDP camp,” Pulse, June 26, 2015; Ola Audu, “Boko Haram militants seize Damaturu-Maiduguri road,” Premium Times, July 11, 2015; “Cameroun – Espionnage: Deux présumés Boko Haram arrêtés à Minawou,” Mutations, August 15, 2014.

[18] Several factors can explain Shekau’s absence: 1) Islamic State ‘provincial’ leaders generally do not have public media roles to avoid upstaging al-Baghdadi or going off-narrative, including dying and showing weakness, and for operational security reasons; 2) Shekau may have been an “actor” (there was likely at least one fake Shekau) so he is no longer “cast”; 3) Shekau may be in Libya or in deep hiding outside of Nigeria and separated from his media team, which explains why his baya`a to al-Baghdadi and his one other media appearance since then have both been audio recordings. See “Over 600 Terrorists Killed in One Month,” ThisDayLive, July 5, 2015; Adelani Adepegba, “Shekau’s allegiance to ISIS changes nothing—Nigerian Army,” Punch, March 9, 2015; James Schneider, “Boko Haram: fearsome yet reliant on exploited children,” NewAfrica Magazine, July 22, 2015.

[19] Some of President Buhari’s new measures include shifting the army command to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in Nigeria. He also updated the army rules of engagement, met with neighboring leaders of Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin and international partners to discuss regional collaboration, expressed confidence in the ‘soft approach’ to countering violent extremism, and encouraged investment to rebuild northeastern Nigeria. “We’ ll crush Boko Haram in 6 weeks—Dasuki,” Vanguard, February 10, 2015; “Month till Boko Haram defeat,” Daily Star, March 21, 2015

[20] Their gender, long clothing, and youth made it less likely that security officers would detect them before attacks. On a cultural level, the passivity encouraged of young girls in some parts of northeastern Nigeria may have made them less likely to decline the demands of male militants to carry out such attacks or deliver packages that unbeknownst to the girls had remotely detonable bombs in them. Author interview with government official from Maroua, Yaounde, Cameroon, July 2015

[21] The role of the “post-Ansaru” networks can be deduced from the fact that almost all of the first 15 attempted female suicide attacks in Nigeria in 2014 were in northwestern Nigeria, where Boko Haram rarely operated but Ansaru only operated from between 2011 and 2013—and Ansaru militants had transferred other tactics, such as kidnappings, to the northwest, and been the first to pioneer suicide bombings and other innovative asymmetric warfare tactics in Nigeria.

[22] The back-to-back tandem female suicide attacks in Diffa in February 2015 and subsequent raids on islands of Niger and Chad on Lake Chad, which commenced a new phase of the Boko Haram insurgency beyond Nigeria’s borders, were preceded by a Boko Haram threat to attack Niger, Chad, and Cameroon on al-Urhwa al-Wutqha with a newly amended Boko Haram logo. The new logo, for the first time with Boko Haram’s name spelled out in Arabic script (probably to show Arabic-speaking militants that Boko Haram’s name was not “Boko Haram”), had only previously appeared in a posting by an Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia defector who became pro-Islamic State and worked for Africa Media and claimed in detail to have facilitated Shekau’s baya`a. This suggests that the Islamic State likely had advanced knowledge of the expansion to Niger and Chad. The Islamic State may have encouraged the expansion of the insurgency with the attacks in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon and had the aspirations to launch attacks in Benin, which is why Shekau began to mention Benin for the first time in his scripted speech on al-Urwah al-Wutqha.

[23] The female suicide attacks included one by two girls in burqas at a joint Cameroonian-Chadian special forces compound in Fotokol on July 13, an attack by two girls in Maroua on July 22 and another attack by a girl in Maroua on July 26. They all took place in areas of Cameroon where the “post-Ansaru” network had previously kidnapped foreigners and then transferred them to Boko Haram camps across the border in Nigeria. All of these female suicide attacks in Cameroon saw the girls cross the border from Nigeria into Cameroon along similar routes the “post-Ansaru” had previously used to transport their captives into Nigeria from Cameroon. It therefore makes it more likely that the “post-Ansaru” network was involved in masterminding these female suicide attacks than any other militant network. “Boko Haram suspected after suicide attacks in Chad, NE Nigeria,” AFP, July 11, 2015; “At Least 11 Dead In Twin Suicide Bombing In Cameroon,” AFP, July 13, 2015.

[24] The militants, for example, killed up to 200 people in a 48-hour period in Borno State on July 1, 2015.

[25] Wilayat West Africa carried out female suicide attacks on churches in Yobe State’s two largest cities of Damatru and Potiskum in May and July, 2015; raided the towns of Fika and Babangida, also in Yobe State, in May and June; failed in carrying out a female suicide attack at a major mosque in Kano on July 6; launched mass-casualty attacks in Jos, also on July 6, involving a suicide car-bombing at a church, a suicide attack at a popular restaurant and a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a mosque; and carried out a suicide attack at a university in Zaria, Kaduna State, also on July 7. “Suspected Mastermind Of Jos, Zaria Bombings Arrested In Gombe,”, July 9, 2015.

[26] “Suspected Mastermind Of Jos, Zaria Bombings Arrested In Gombe,”, July 9, 2015.

[27] Fanaye had been part of the “post-Ansaru” network known as Harakat al-Muhajirin and a trafficker of heavy weaponry from Chad via northern Cameroon to Nigeria. He had hand-written letters in Arabic language from Shekau on his person at the time of his arrest. Shekau communicates with other commanders with hand-written letters or documents on USB devices. “Chad Arrests Boko Haram Leader In N’Djamena,” PM News, June 30, 2015.

[28] Author’s Interviews with Chadian religious leaders, journalists, and professors. N’djamena, July 2015.

[29] “Shekau no longer leads Boko Haram, says Chad’s President,” Premium Times, August 12, 2015.

[30] “Nigeria Decides: Strategic Post Election Threats,”, April 12, 2015.

[31] See Zenn,  “A Biography of Boko Haram and the Bay`a to al-Baghdadi.” The former Ansaru leader Khalid Al-Barnawi and Shekau may have come to an agreement while both were in northern Mali in November 2012 for Shekau’s faction to be responsible for most of Yobe and Borno States in Nigeria, while elements of al-Barnawi’s faction, now also comprising of Harakat al-Muhajirin, were to operate in northern Cameroon and towns in northern Borno, such as Monguno, and along the logistics routes from Libya through Niger, Chad, and Cameroon that supplied weapons to Boko Haram in Nigeria. Al-Barnawi likely allowed Shekau to take credit for all his all attacks and kidnappings (or used a fake Shekau to claim its own attacks), which is why Harakat al-Muhajirin did not claim attacks or advertise its presence and instead focused strictly on its operations and maintaining a low profile for operational purposes.

[32] Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram Leader Abu Bakr Shekau: Dead, Deposed Or Duplicated?” Militant Leadership Monitor, 5:5, May 2014.

[33] The claim was made on the al-Urhwa al-Wutqha twitter account.

[34] Ansaru, if its exists at all as a surviving independent militant group, may only be in a small pocket of Bauchi State. For more see “Boko Haram kills 40 in Diffa, southeast Niger,”, June 19, 2015; Boko Haram attacks prison in Niger, four killed,” Reuters, July 12.

[35] Wilayat West Africa’s first major attack in Chad was on June 15, 2015, when two purportedly Chadian militants simultaneously launched suicide bombings at the police academy and police headquarters in N’djamena, killing more than 30 people. For the first time, the Islamic State’s “core” media team claimed these suicide attacks on its official Al-Bayan Radio News Bulletin and on Twitter, where it showed “martyrdom” photos of the two suicide bombers. The Islamic State’s “core” media team also claimed on Twitter a separate “martyrdom” operation in N’djamena on June 29 in which a purportedly Chadian suicide bomber killed five security officers (and six fellow militants collaterally) at a house where weapons were stored. The Islamic State’s “core” media also claimed two other suicide bombings in N’djamena and Maiduguri on July 11, which killed “dozens.” The claims were originally posted on Islamic State twitter accounts, such as @FzdsdD of “Abu al-Waleed al-Jazrawi”, on July 11, 2015. There was also a suicide attack at the Grand Marché in N’djamena on June 11 that went unclaimed but is believed to be the work of Wilayat West Africa. Since the attacker was a man wearing a burqa, it is possible that the masterminds did not claim it for the same reasons they do not claim female suicide attacks.

[36] Chad’s investigation of the Islamic State-claimed June 29 operation in N’djamena led to the arrest of Bana Fanaye. This suggests that there was a direct connection between the Islamic State’s “core” media team and Bana Fanaye’s cell and therefore also to Shekau via Bana Fanaye. It may also suggest that Islamic State’s “core” media team is connected to other “post-Ansaru” leaders, such as Alhaji Abdalla, who, like Fanaye, communicated with Shekau via couriers, but also had business relations in parts of the Middle East and North Africa where Islamic State also has wilayat. “Cameroun: La Boko Haram connection,”, June 2, 2014.

[37] This is similar to how the first news and intelligence reports of financial and training relations betweenAQIM and Boko Haram emerged after five simultaneous bombs exploded in a Boko Haram-claimed attack in Jos, Plateau State on Christmas Day, 2010.

[38] According to one of the leading Islamic State social media promoters, Abu Malik Shaybah al-Hamad, who is a former AQIM poet and defector to the Islamic State, Libya is the “gateway to Africa” and, like Nigeria post-Shekau’s baya`a, it is an acceptable destination for militants to “migrate” if they cannot reach Syria or Iraq. On June 16, 2015, an Islamic State supporter whose nisba suggests he is from Barqa (the Islamist name for eastern Libya) wrote on twitter that “Shekau’s followers” and “descendants of Bilal ibn Rabah (the first African muazzin)” entered Darna, which is a city near Barqa in eastern Libya that the Mujahidin Shura Council (MSC) seized from the Islamic State that month. Two days earlier, on June 14, an Islamic State militant whose nisba also suggests he is from Barqa said that Wilayat West Africa “reinforcements” arrived from Wilayat Fezzan in southern Libya to fight the MSC in Darna.

[39] Specifically, the report said that Wilayat West Africa “headquarters” was relocated to the “Middle East.” This would suggest that the Islamic State leadership hierarchy mandates a system for Wilayat West Africa—and likely all other ‘provinces’— to report to the Islamic State “core” leadership in Syria and Iraq. “He was trained by ISIS in Sirte for two years,”, June 29, 2015; “The leadership of the ‘state’ get orders directly from the Syrian Al-Raqqah,”, May 15, 2015; “Boko Haram leader Shekau flees Nigeria,” African Spotlight, May 9, 2015.

[40] This would be consistent with the precedent set when Shekau and Khalid al-Barnawi, who is a leading militant in the “post-Ansaru” network, formed an alliance under MUJAO’s auspices in Mali in 2012 that resulted in joint operations, particularly kidnappings and weapons trafficking in Cameroon. In addition, it is consistent with the role of Ansaru’s founders fighting alongside MUJAO militants in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Algeria when they were in the GSPC in the mid-2000s and the shift in the loyalty of both the “post-Ansaru” network and MUJAO from al-Qa`ida to the Islamic State in 2014.  “Gaid Salah warns against Islamic State in the Sahel,” El-Watan, July 3, 2015.

[41] The relationship between Islamic State wilayat in Libya and Wilayat West Africa can also be seen in context of the Islamic State’s “core” media team promoting Boko Haram and “migration” to the soon-to-be Wilayat West Africa alongside tweets with the hashtag “#Migration_to_IS_in_Libya”. This hashtag, notably, was first popularized at the same time—January 14, 2015—that the al-Urhwa al-Wutqha twitter account was launched.  “Islamic State Militants Find A Foothold In Chaotic Libya,” AP, February 20, 2015; Fulan Nasrullah, “An Interesting Twist,” Fulan’s SITREP, August 13, 2015; Kevin Casey, Stacey Pollard, “The Islamic State’s Strategy in Libya,” Carnegie, March 25, 2015.

[42] “A tour of the Concentration of Fundamentalist Groups in Libya,” al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 23, 2015.

[43] Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Burgeoning Capital in Sirte, Libya,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 6, 2015; Abdel Sattar Hatitah; Fulan Nasrullah, “An Interesting Twist,” Fulan’s SITREP, August 13, 2015; Tweet of @shaiba_ha (now suspended), January 20, 2015.

[44] Authors interview of Cameroonian journalist with video taken from Boko Haram militants, Yaounde, Cameroon, July 2015.

[45] Author’s Interview of Cameroonian security officer, Yaounde, Cameroon, July 2015; “Troops forced to retreat from mined Boko Haram stronghold,” Vanguard, April 23, 2015.

[46] The first attacks in Diffa, Niger, and Chad in February 2015 were preceded by a Boko Haram threat to both countries in a statement that was likely drafted by Africa Media and then posted on al-Urhwa al-Wutqha.

[47] Aaron Y. Zelin, “Picture Or It Didn’t Happen: A Snapshot of the Islamic State’s Official Media Output,” Perspectives on Terrorism, 9:4 (2015).

[48] After Shekau’s baya`a, MUJAO’s leader Abu Walid al-Sahraoui and some former AQIM factions in Algeria also pledged baya`a to al-Baghdadi, while al-Shabab militants appeared to be becoming closer to considering a baya`a to al-Baghdadi but the organization ultimately remained loyal to al-Qa`ida. See Aymenn J. Tamimi, “Al-Shabaab’s Threat to Mall of America in Minnesota,” Middle East Forum, March 9, 2015.

[49] The “IMU model” refers to how after the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader Usman Ghazi pledged baya`a to al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi did not formally accept the baya`a. Rather, the IMU was merged into Wilayat Khurasan since that Wilayat was already responsible for Afghanistan and Central Asia (including Uzbekistan). Similary, al-Baghdadi may not accept the MUJAO leader’s baya`a to al-Baghdadi because Wilayat West Africa is already responsible for MUJAO’s areas of operation in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin.

[50] To these Wilayat West Africa dissenters, the Islamic teachings of late “Boko Haram” founder Muhammed Yusuf—unlike the takfiri ideology of Shekau (and al-Baghdadi and Turki bin Ali)—are sufficient.

[51] GSPC is the French acronym for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, whose successor organization was AQIM.

[52] According to former strategic intelligence analyst Fulan Nasrallah, who has a track record of inside information, several hundred Boko Haram militants broke away from Shekau after his baya`a to al-Baghdadi and will retain the name Boko Haram. These militants, led by one Mahamat Daud, reportedly have approached Nigeria and Chad about negotiations with the demand for at least a semi-autonomous “Islamic State” in northeastern Nigeria in the model of Aceh, Indonesia or Iraqi Kurdistan, threatening otherwise that the militants will continue the insurgency in the name of Muhammed Yusuf—not Shekau or al-Baghdadi. Daud was reportedly a follower of Muhammed Yusuf, but did not support the Shekau-led clashes with the security forces in July 2009 that led to Yusuf’s death during a security forces interrogation. Daud later commanded Boko Haram operations in Maiduguri, including suicide attacks, intelligence and internal security (Amniyah), and extorting money from elites and government officials. See Fulan Nasralla, “An Interesting Twist,” Fulan’s SITREP, August 13, 2015; “An Interesting Twist II: A Failed Coup,” Fulan’s SITREP, August 17, 2015.

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