Escapees exemplify the differences between Boko Haram and Ansaru


Francis Collomb (left) and Hajja (right). Images from The Mirror and Reuters.

On Nov. 13, both Boko Haram and a splinter faction known as Ansaru were added to the US’s lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities. In the State Department’s official announcement, Boko Haram was described as “a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians.”

Ansaru, on the other hand, was described as focusing “on Nigerian military and Western targets.”

Interestingly, on the following day, an Eid al Adha statement from Ansaru leader Abu Usama al Ansari criticizing Boko Haram was posted on jihadist forums. Noting the challenges facing Nigerian Muslims, al Ansari said they face danger not only from Christians and the Nigerian government, but also from “people from their own group making them taste the same thing that they suffer from the cruel enemy,” according to a translation of the statement, which was provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

This is clearly a reference to Boko Haram and the longstanding enmity over the issue of targeting Muslims, which resulted in Ansaru’s splitting from Boko Haram in January 2012. And while kidnapping is unmistakably Ansaru’s expertise, Boko Haram has adopted the tactic to suit its own ends. The disparity in organizational goals was on display in the press over the last week as both organizations were embarrassed by captive escapes. A comparison of the two incidents highlights the differences between the two groups.

Ansaru abducted French engineer Francis Collomp last December, in retaliation for France’s military campaign in Mali as well as its ban on face veils. In September, Collomp was featured in a video released by Ansaru in which he was seen asking the French and Nigerian governments for help in securing his release. With little progress being made, Collomp apparently took matters into his own hands. Over the weekend, reports emerged that the 63-year-old managed to escape his captors while they were praying.

Boko Haram was featured in a recent Reuters article about the group’s practice of abducting Christian women and forcing them to convert to Islam and marry militants. As a result of Nigerian military operations, the group has fled to the mountains on the border with Cameroon, where it has made use of terrain unfamiliar to most Nigerian soldiers, sleeping in caves and conducting hit-and-run operations. The Reuters story focuses on 19-year-old Hajja, who was seized by Boko Haram in July and spent three months as a slave, during which time she was forced to cook, carry ammunition, and convert. Hajja feigned stomach pains, and eventually escaped when she was taken to a hospital with only an older woman as an escort.

Although Nigeria’s under-governed north has offered both Boko Haram and Ansaru plenty of room in which to operate, the two groups remain apart on tactics, even if they share the same goals of establishing an Islamic state and imposing sharia, or Islamic law. Despite speculation that Ansaru may be reintegrating into Boko Haram, the latter’s focus on attacking Nigerian civilians – whoever they may be – is specifically prohibited by Ansaru’s charter. As long as this fundamental difference remains, the two groups will remain at odds.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • peccavi says:

    The 2 groups are exceptionally different particularly in style, ethnic composition, professionalism and goals.
    It purely operational terms Ansaru is the more professional, however in the short term it is the less dangerous on the basis that it is not looking to cause indiscriminate mass casualties. Ansaru has shown the requisite skill in kidnapping for ransom as well as the ruthlessness to execute hostages.
    Boko Haram on the other hand is evolving into a rural guerrilla group like the LRA, essentially roaming the countryside killing, robbing and kidnapping with no discernible or achievable goal.
    Of the 2 threats Boko Haram is the most dangerous


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram