The United Nations has added Boko Haram to its al Qaeda sanctions list, citing the Nigerian group’s ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and prolific terrorist acts. The move comes more than one month after Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls, thereby gaining international infamy.
Boko Haram “has maintained a relationship with” AQIM “for training and material support purposes,” the UN’s sanctions page reads. AQIM is one of al Qaeda’s several regional branches and the group’s emir, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (a.k.a. Abdelmalek Droukdel), has sworn bayat (an oath of allegiance) to al Qaeda’s senior leadership.
The UN says that Boko Haram has “gained valuable knowledge on the construction of improvised explosive devices from AQIM.” In addition, a “number of Boko Haram members fought alongside al Qaeda affiliated groups in Mali in 2012 and 2013 before returning to Nigeria with terrorist expertise.”
The UN also cites a November 2012 statement made by the terrorist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, in which he “expressed Boko Haram’s solidarity with al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, Somalia and Yemen.”
In a previous statement, issued in July 2010, Shekau praised al Qaeda and offered his condolences for the “martyrdom” of al Qaeda’s two top leaders in Iraq. “Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather, jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”
US government already recognized relationship between AQIM and Boko Haram
The UN’s recognition of Boko Haram’s ties to AQIM are hardly surprising given that the US government has repeatedly pointed to the relationship.
In June 2012, the State Department designated three individual terrorists, including Abubakar Shekau. The two other jihadists designated, Khalid al Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar, “have ties to Boko Haram and have close links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” State reported.
One year later, in June 2013, the State Department announced a $7 million reward for information leading to the capture of Shekau. At the same time, similar rewards were offered for leaders in AQIM and the groups’ offshoots. The “Rewards for Justice” page for Shekau says that he has issued statements “expressing solidarity with al Qaeda and threatening the United States.” The same page reads: “There are reported communications, training, and weapons links between Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Shabaab, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], which may strengthen Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks.”
Like AQIM, Shabaab and AQAP are formal branches of al Qaeda and have sworn an oath of allegiance (bayat) to Ayman al Zawahiri. The National Counterterrorism Center’s web page for Shekau includes the same language connecting Boko Haram to the three al Qaeda groups.
In November 2013, the State Department designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. The designation cited Boko Haram’s “links to” AQIM and responsibility “for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians.”
The US government has continued to cite Boko Haram’s ties to AQIM since it was designated. In the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism, published on April 30, 2014, Foggy Bottom again noted that Boko Haram “at times has received assistance, including funds and training, from” AQIM.
Contacts with Boko Haram reportedly found in bin Laden’s files
According to several US intelligence officials, hundreds of thousands of documents and files were recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in early May 2011. To date, the US government has released only 17 of them, plus a handful of videos, to the public. According to US intelligence officials with knowledge of the documents, some of the files that remain in the government’s possession catalog al Qaeda’s dealings with the Nigerian group.
On April 27, 2012, the Washington Post reported that bin Laden’s files “show that through his couriers, bin Laden was in touch not only with al Qaeda’s established affiliates but also with upstarts being groomed for new alliances. Among them was Nigeria’s Boko Haram, a group that has since embraced al Qaeda and adopted its penchant for suicide attacks.”
Two days later, on April 29, 2012, the Guardian (UK) ran its own account explaining the contents of the files. “Bin Laden appears to have been in direct or indirect communication with [the] Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram as well as many other militant outfits,” the Guardian reported. “As with the Taliban, the question of whether Boko Haram … is in touch with al Qaeda or one of its affiliates has been hotly debated by analysts.” Nonetheless, “documents in the cache show that leaders of the Nigerian group had been in contact with top levels of al Qaeda in the past 18 months.”
Just days later, on May 3, 2012, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point released just a small cache of files (the aforementioned 17) from bin Laden’s compound. None of the files dealt with the contacts between al Qaeda’s senior leadership and Boko Haram described by the Guardian and the Washington Post, even though at least some of these same documents were originally slated for release.
It is not publicly known what bin Laden’s files say, precisely, about Boko Haram’s relationship with al Qaeda’s senior leaders. But as the US government and now the UN have both recognized, the Nigerian group is working in concert with al Qaeda’s branches.
Note: Parts of this article were previously published at The Weekly Standard.