Is Boko Haram Pledging Allegiance To ISIS?

by Chris Tognotti

It's been a tumultuous and concerning last year in the area of international terrorism, and how major Western nations respond to it. And with the United States engaged in nearly a decade-and-a-half long battle against Al Qaeda, and then beign further drawn into an uncertain and harrowing conflict against ISIS, smaller but no-less menacing groups like Nigeria's Boko Haram are too easily overlooked. But Saturday, news broke that could change all that — reportedly, Boko Haram may be joining with ISIS, inserting itself into a higher international profile than ever before.

The news comes by way of audio posted on the Islamic militant group's Twitter account Saturday, purportedly of their leader, Abubakar Shekau. As detailed by CNN, Shekau seemingly swears the allegiance of Boko Haram to "the Caliph of the Muslims, Ibrahim ibn Awad ibn Ibrahim al-Husseini al-Qurashi," another name for the leader of ISIS, most often referred to in the media as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It's important to note, as every major news outlet reporting this has done, that the recording hasn't been verified as authentic, so there's some fair room to be skeptical — Boko Haram only stands to elevate their status by appearing to be aligned with ISIS, after all. But that said, the implications if it's true are deeply concerning.

Even were they only nominally aligned, the union of ISIS and Boko Haram would no doubt be a terrifying development for government forces and citizens in both group's primary territories. And if they ever rose to the level of tight, operational coordination, it'd be even worse — ISIS having an ally and potential haven in Nigeria would be a major boon. Over the last several months, their spread throughout the Middle East, and down into Africa has been a major cause for concern.

And with the Nigerian government already struggling to deal with the terroristic methods of Boko Haram (it was they who committed that mass kidnapping of schoolgirls last year, among countless other atrocities), adding a group as greatly numbered and heavily armed as ISIS into the mix would be a nightmare. Boko Haram, for all the carnage they've wrought, is believed to have far fewer fighters than ISIS does — Amnesty estimates their numbers at 15,000, while noting the true figure could be higher.

By contrast, late last year the CIA estimated ISIS had somewhere from 20,000 to 31,500 fighters under their banner. But, similarly, that number could be much, much higher — they're still attracting new recruits from different parts of the world. Basically, if true, this is pretty bad news for all involved. There's really only one silver lining in all of it — the possibility that this is a move of desperation, and Boko Haram could be running out of steam. And while that might be too daring a prediction to state with any certainty, we can always hope.