An announced merger: the union between Boko Haram and the Islamic State

(To Nicolò Giordana)

The 7 March 2015 leader of the fundamentalist association Boko Harām, Abubakar Shekau, has promised loyalty to the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a declaration in Arabic language subtitled in English and French which took place by means of its publication on the official Twitter account of Boko Harām, Al-Urhwa al-Wutqha [Literally the term means "indissoluble bond" and takes its name from a Parisian Islamic newspaper of the 1880. Since the account was created after the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a clear traceability to the approval of the massacre can be seen, showing, at least at the time, a clear anti-Western alliance].

A few days later the Islamic militia celebrated this "new" alliance with favor and the same Caliph of ISIS accepted the bay'ah [Trad. The declaration of alliance.]. This action was greeted with surprise by some foreign policy analysts, but in reality it was not surprising at all that it was already evident at least since July 2014. Instead, it is rigorously consistent with the current transnational tendency that sees former militia sympathizers for al-Qaeda changing the flag in favor of the younger and more social-net ISIS.

The Sunna People's Group for religious propaganda and Jihad is located in Nigeria in the 2002 at the hands of Ustaz Mohammad Yusuf. Immediately in Moiduguri, where the organization was formed, it took the nickname of Boko Harām which, etymologically, in the Hausa boko language means Latin, to be understood in the broader meaning of Western education, and harām, an Arabic word, means sin, or a legal ban. A strong indication of adversity in the West that is manifested in the purpose of the association: the abolition of the modern political-lagoon system in favor of the imposition of the sharī'a, the Islamic law.

Yusuf preached that Muslims should follow the teaching dictated by the so-called "four pure Salafites": Usama Bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda; the Taliban, the first group that attempted to establish an Islamic emirate in the post-caliphate; Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian ideologue who has always stood for the establishment of an Islamic State; and the theologian of Salafism Ibn Taymiyya.

In an action in July 2009 the Nigerian security forces killed about a thousand members of Boko Haram including the founder, Yusuf. The leadership was immediately entrusted to Abubakar Shekau who a year later, in July 2010, declared a jihad against Nigeria and the United States through a communication of content significantly attributable to a format that, for rhetoric and syntax, was completely identical to those made by al-Qaeda, which makes a hypothetical link between the two organizations materialize.

The first attacks carried out by the Nigerian terrorist association date back to September 2010 and between June and August 2011 Nigeria suffered the first vehicle suicides in its history with attacks on the Federal Police Headquarters and the United Nations headquarters in Abuja. These actions continued, through the Nur network, throughout 2011 and 2012, coordinating more than twenty attacks in north-west Nigeria while Shekau's followers launched a guerrilla revolt in the north-east of the country. The political defeat of Nur and the overwhelming of Yusuf's organization allowed the latter to claim all attacks.

In 2012, Nigeria also became the scene of the birth of another militant group formed in the north-west area called Ansaru, which differed ideologically and tactically from Boko Haram. Soon it becomes a basin in which the deserters of the main terrorist group converge, identifying themselves as a society that refused the killing of Muslims: it concentrated on kidnappings and ambushes in the territory of origin. From this new entity were identified three main networks, two of which are transnational: the first was the GSPC comprising Nigerians including the terrorist collaborator of Yusuf Khalid al-Barnawi, author of the famous attack, in the 2005, against a barracks of Mauritanian soldiers Lemgheity; the second was the AQIM network, including specially trained Nigerian militants such as Mamman Nur and Adam Kambar, contact with the Pakistani al-Qaeda and responsible for training in Mali; the third was the Middle Belt network comprising mid-level recruits to support the first two.

Between 2012 and 2013 we are witnessing a merger between the GSPC and AQIM and Boko Harām networks: the signals are given by the raid carried out in a prison in Abuja to free the members of the organization founded by Yusuf. The AQIM network is isolated after the incursion of the Nigerian forces and other similar interventions that have favored its integration, in the north-east of Nigeria, with Boko Haram. Meanwhile, the Middle Belt, despite losing most of its connections to AQIM and MUJAO, continued to carry out attacks under the Ansaru flag against soldiers who were outside the block operated by Boko Haram. Once the GSPC and AQIM networks were merged into Yusuf's organization, Middle Belt became Ansaru's only independent network. It was precisely this unification that was the point of origin for the merger between Boko Haram and ISIS: the long-standing contacts established by these two entities allowed the establishment of the first links with the Islamic State. Initially, the collaboration was at the media level, and an example is brought by the numerous videos produced and subsequently placed on the net.

The announcement of Boko Haram al-Urhwa al-Wutqha's communication officer 15 February 2015 on the new general command saw a strong and threatening Shekau speech to Benin, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria and At the same time, he confirmed to the Islamic State the leadership of Shekau satisfying one of the requirements for the alliance with ISIS that the same terrorist group revealed in the same online magazine of the terrorist group, Dabiq 5, in October 2014 saying that a future annexation to the Islamic State of new states would be delayed until a leader was identified who could promise faithfulness effectively.

The announcement of ISIS and its willingness to expand into Africa and promote a new West African state similar to the already existing one of the Middle Eastern lands, coincides with the will that already in 2002 insinuated itself into the will of Boko Harām (that to become a point of reference for radical Islam), today ISIS can give this group what al-Qaeda did not give due to its preference for "pure" Salafis. Not only that, especially after the death of Usama bin Laden and the arrest of Yunus al-Mauritani in Pakistan in 2011, al-Qaeda has not shown particular interest in Boko Harām or Shekau. The news of the merger with the Islamic State came at a strategic moment, when Boko Harām was suffering setbacks due to offensives carried out in February this year by the military of Nigeria and neighboring countries. These actions have forced the terrorist organization to flee controlled territories since mid-2014 in northeastern Nigeria.

At this point a possible defeat of the terrorist group could mean a strong setback at least to the propaganda of the Islamic State. For this purpose ISIS has two alternatives: to stimulate the activation of dormant cells in the north-west of Nigeria by carrying out an attack on foreigners in order to attract the attention of the international media - in the same way as the actions committed by the Islamic State in Tripoli or at the nightclub in Bamako, Mali, on the very day Shekau swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The second alternative is to use the forces of Boko Harām, repositioning them in areas where ISIS networks are most active.

The decision of the merger analyzed above is not to be considered as a rash decision but they are placed in a willingness that Boko Haram had been affirming already by voluntarily wishing to legitimize his position in Nigeria and in West Africa. From June to July, 2014 had in fact begun to use the symbols of ISIS such as the black flag and black clothes. A decision therefore given birth by the leadership and the propaganda organ for some time.