Al Qaeda-linked group reappears in Nigeria

New photo of Ansaru’s men as released by al Qaeda’s Global Islamic Media Front.

Following several years of inactivity, the al Qaeda-linked Jamaat al Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, better known as Ansaru, has reappeared online.

A new photo of the group was released today by the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a clearinghouse for propaganda of al Qaeda’s global network. GIMF also announced a new media outlet for Ansaru, Al Yaqut Media Center.

A Telegram channel, ostensibly ran by members of Ansaru, also reposted the photo, giving further credence to the veracity of the picture.

The photo details three members of Ansaru, presumably in northern Nigeria, and features a famous Hadith [saying of the Prophet Muhammad] about the importance of ribat [frontline fortifications in the defense of Islam]. The same photo above was also released in Arabic and Hausa.

While the photo itself offers little information, the release and creation of a new media outlet is meant to demonstrate Ansaru’s continued existence and presence inside Nigeria. This attempted resurgence has been hinted at in al Qaeda’s propaganda in the past.

For instance, in 2017, Al Risalah Magazine, a former publication released by al Qaeda-linked jihadists in Syria, released an article penned by Usama al Ansari. Ansari, who was described as Ansaru’s emir, heavily criticized Abubakar Shekau, offered a detailed history of the group, and spoke highly of al Qaeda’s men around the world in the piece.

That article was the first sign of life for the group in almost two years at the time.

Prior to the magazine article, the last Ansaru publications were in early 2015. In January and February of that year, two videos were released by the jihadist group with the aim of distancing itself from the actions of Abubakar Shekau and his Boko Haram.

In the videos and aforementioned magazine article, Ansaru’s leaders closely stuck to al Qaeda’s guidelines for jihad. This was not surprising as the history of the group is closely tied to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Two of Ansaru’s founders and leaders were trained by AQIM’s men in Mali. In some instances, Ansaru’s men even took part in al Qaeda’s operations in the Sahel and further claimed attacks inside Nigeria in defense of AQIM in Mali.

And in 2013, Khalid al Barnawi, the former leader of Ansaru, referred to Ayman al Zawahiri as “our good emir” and praised al Qaeda’s branches around the world.

After Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015, Ansaru has widely been regarded as al Qaeda’s franchise in Nigeria.

However, following fierce competition with Boko Haram, and later the Islamic State West Africa, and the arrest of Barnawi in 2016, Ansaru was severely weakened and largely relegated to a state of dormancy.

It is unclear how successful Ansaru would be in an attempted resurgence inside Nigeria. It is possible that the ascendency of jihadist violence in the Sahel could provide Ansaru the capacity to reconstitute its forces.

Weakening security situations elsewhere in Nigeria, such as in Zamfara state, could also potentially be exploited by the jihadist group to regain strength.

The weakening of Islamic State West Africa and/or Shekau’s Jamaat Ahl al Sunnah [Boko Haram’s official name] could also provide an opening for Ansaru. But all of this remains to be seen.

Though one thing is clear with today’s announcement, al Qaeda is signaling to jihadists that Ansaru is still alive.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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