Islamic State militants have accepted a pledge of allegiance from the Nigerian-grown Boko Haram extremist group, according to a spokesman for the IS movement.
The move came yesterday as both groups are under increasing military pressure and have sustained setbacks on the battlefield.
Islamic State seized much of northern and western Iraq last summer, gaining control of about a third of both Iraq and Syria. But it is now struggling against Iraqi forces seeking to recapture Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit, while coming under fire from coalition air strikes in other parts of the country and in Syria.
Boko Haram, meanwhile, has been weakened by a multinational force that has dislodged it from a score of northeastern Nigerian towns. But its new Twitter account, increasingly slick and more frequent video messages, and a new media arm all were considered signs that the group is now being helped by IS propagandists.
Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted an audio recording online that pledged allegiance to IS.
“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” Boko Haram’s message said.
Yesterday the Islamic State group’s media arm Al-Furqan said that Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance has been accepted, claiming the caliphate has now expanded to West Africa and that “no-one can stand in its path.”
Al-Adnani had urged foreign fighters from around the world to migrate and join Boko Haram. He also sent a message to Christians and other non-Muslims in IS lands to convert to Islam or pay a special tax – something the extremists have already put into practice in IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria.
“If you insist on being arrogant and stubborn … soon you will bite your fingers off in regret,” he added.
J Peter Pham, director of the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, said the IS group’s quick acceptance of Boko Haram’s allegiance highlights a new risk. “Militants finding it increasingly harder to get to Syria and Iraq may choose instead to go to northeastern Nigeria and internationalize that conflict,” Pham wrote in an e-mail.
In the past – as was the case with IS affiliates in Egypt, Yemen and Libya – it took weeks for the Islamic State to respond to a pledge of allegiance. “The prompt – one might even say `fast-tracked’ – acceptance by the so-called Islamic State of Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance” underscores that both needed the propaganda boost from the affiliation, Pham said.