Islamic State spokesman publicly accepts Boko Haram’s allegiance

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In a defiant new speech, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani claims that the “caliphate” is undaunted in the face of the multinational forces arrayed against it and remains on the path to victory. Adnani also publicly accepts the pledge of allegiance issued by Boko Haram’s leader, Abu Bakr Shekau, saying that recruits who cannot join the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere now have the option of traveling to West Africa.

Adnani’s audio speech, entitled “So They Kill and Are Killed,” was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The recording is nearly 30 minutes long.

“We give you glad tidings today about the expansion of the Caliphate to West Africa, for the Caliph, may Allah preserve him, accepted the pledge of allegiance of our brothers in Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa Wal Jihad [Boko Haram],” Adnani says, according to SITE’s translation.  “We congratulate the Muslims and our mujahideen brothers in West Africa for their pledge of allegiance, and we congratulate them for their joining the march of the Caliphate.”

Adnani goes on to say that those who are “unable to immigrate to Iraq, Sham, Yemen, the Peninsula, and Khorasan,” may not be “unable [to immigrate to] Africa.”

Earlier this month, Shekau became the highest-profile jihadist to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State thus far. [See LWJ report, Boko Haram leader pledges allegiance to the Islamic State.]

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (“Caliph Ibrahim”) and his followers have pressed to garner the fealty of many existing jihadist groups, but failed to woo al Qaeda’s existing branches. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Shabaab in Somalia all remain openly loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official arm in the Levant, has fought against the Islamic State in Syria. Contrary to claims made by jihadists in recent press reports and on social media, Al Nusrah remains a part of al Qaeda’s international network. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was established by Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders in September 2014 and is staffed by al Qaeda loyalists.

Other parts of al Qaeda’s global operation, including the Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE), have rejected Baghdadi’s caliphate claim. Some of ICE’s commanders have defected to the Islamic State, but the overall group remains in al Qaeda’s camp. Numerous other al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups have declined to follow Baghdadi as well.

Still, the Islamic State’s own international network has been growing, especially in Libya and the Sinai. Baghdadi has also garnered the fealty of disgruntled al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in South Asia, giving the Islamic State some manpower in the region.

Shekau was arguably the first well-known jihadist leader to openly join Baghdadi. Boko Haram has longstanding ties to AQIM and other parts of al Qaeda, but that relationship will undoubtedly evolve further given Shekau’s public backing of Baghdadi.

Ansaru, a pro-al Qaeda group in Nigeria, has increasingly sought to distance itself from Boko Haram in recent months. Ansaru and Boko Haram have frequently cooperated in operations, but have distinctly different jihadist agendas. Ansaru, like other al Qaeda groups, is attempting to portray itself as a popular revolutionary force, as opposed to Boko Haram’s and the Islamic State’s top-down totalitarianism.

In its propaganda this past week, the Islamic State portrayed Boko Haram’s decision to join the self-declared “caliphate” as a major boost for the group. At a time when Baghdadi’s forces are taking on enemies from nearly every direction, Boko Haram’s announcement was seen as a major coup. Before Adnani’s speech was made public, the Islamic State released several videos from followers and members in Raqqa and elsewhere praising Shekau’s announcement. (A screen shot from one of the messages can be seen at the beginning of this article.)

Indeed, with Boko Haram in its camp, the Islamic State can now plausibly claim to control significant territory in both the heart of the Middle East and West Africa.

Adnani’s speech is devoted largely to the task of wooing new recruits. He preaches the supposed virtues of the Islamic State in the Middle East and West Africa.  In the lands of the caliphate, Adnani says, “monotheism is achieved” and “jihad in the cause of Allah” is the norm.

According to SITE’s translation, Adnani continues by saying there “is no polytheism or paganism or nationalism or patriotism or polytheist democracy or disbelieving secularism” in the caliphate. “There is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab, nor between black and white. Here, the American fraternizes with the Arab, and the African with the European, and the Eastern with the Western.” Adnani promises would-be recruits that they will have the opportunity to live under sharia law if they join the Islamic State’s cause.

Adnani is also keen to portray the Islamic State’s setbacks in Kobane and elsewhere as merely tactical withdrawals, claiming that the the US-led coalition and Kurdish forces found it necessary to demolish these locations. This is a radically different message than the one the Islamic State released during the peak of the fighting in Kobane. At the time, Baghdadi’s group insisted that there were no opposition forces in the city and that the jihadists were in complete control. That was false.



Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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