Ansaru congratulates the Taliban in Afghanistan, promotes Al Qaeda ties

The opening of Ansaru’s congratulatory statement to the Afghan Taliban, as seen in the group’s most recent video.

Al Qaeda’s franchise in Nigeria, Jamaat al Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, better known as Ansaru, has publicly congratulated the Taliban for “rolling back the infidel forces” in Afghanistan. 

The video is dated for August 19, 2021, or shortly after the Taliban conquered Afghanistan, but was not shared online by al Qaeda’s social media accounts until late last week.

This is just the second video to be released by the group in some time with another recent video documenting the group’s ideological affinity to al Qaeda. 

Ansaru’s most recent film features several small video clips from other ostensibly recent, yet unreleased propaganda productions from the group, which includes appearances by child soldiers and what appears to be the group raising its black flag over a captured population center. 

The majority of the short video, however, is a narrator reading an Arabic-language statement as it scrolls across the screen. 

“To our ‘Taliban’ brothers, and at the head Emir al-Mu’mineen Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada,” the narrator starts, “we congratulate and bless the heroes and your men specifically and the Islamic Ummah [the global Islamic community] in general.” 

“Emir al-Mu’mineen,” or commander of the faithful, is an honorific title with great significance. The title is usually reserved for a Muslim Caliph, or leader of a caliphate, but has been appropriated by jihadist groups to mainly refer to one of two leaders depending on where a specific jihadist group stands within the global al Qaeda-Islamic State split. 

The Islamic State and its acolytes call its top leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, and before him Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ‘Emir al-Mu’mineen,’ symbolizing their supposed role as the leader of the Islamic State’s proclaimed caliphate. 

Al Qaeda and its various branches and allies, however, refer to the overall Taliban emir, Akhundzada (and before him Mullah Mohammad Omar), with the same honorific symbolizing not only al Qaeda’s allegiance and deference to the Taliban but also the Taliban leader’s place at the top of al Qaeda’s goal of resurrecting a caliphate of its own. 

That Ansaru is using the term to refer to Akhundzada is thus in line with Al Qaeda’s ideology. 

The Ansaru speaker continues by saying “we bless your defeat of your enemies in Afghanistan and placing your control over the emirate under the shade of the fair Islamic Shari’a and rolling back the infidel forces under the command of America.” 

The narrator finishes his statement with “we wish you luck and persistence in the Haqq [Truth] and we advise you to fear God as his faithful servants and torment his criminal enemies, and do not be afraid of being blamed by the accusers of re-implementing Shari’a, which you have been parted from it for more than 20 years in your land.” 

He then states that “be aware of infidel plots, as you know they will plot against you in various ways.” 

Demonstrating its Al Qaeda ties

Ansaru fighter Abu Omar al-Muhajir (blurred) as seen in Ansaru’s video shared online last month.

This is the second recent Ansaru video to surface in the last few weeks. Late last month, another one of the group’s videos, which was incorrectly dated for next year’s Islamic Eid holiday, was also shared online. Most of its contents were likely filmed early this year or late last year.

Both recent videos are from the group’s Al Yaqout Media Center, which was previously dormant since its founding in late 2019. 

This earlier production features more traditional al Qaeda imagery in that clips of Osama bin Laden, the September 11 attacks, and visual eulogies for dead al Qaeda leaders can be seen. 

These individuals include: Abdelmalek Droukdel and Abu al Hassan Rashid al Bulaydi of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Mohammed al Zawahi of Ansar al Shari’a Libya; Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi of al Qaeda in Iraq; and Nasir al Wuyashi, Ibrahim Rubaish, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Said Ali al-Shihri of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 

These figures were shown under the backdrop of a speech from former al Qaeda senior leader Abu Yahya al Libi. Photos and video clips of al Qaeda’s overall emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, and current AQAP emir, Ibrahim al Qosi, can also be seen throughout the video. 

In highlighting the various global al Qaeda leaders, Ansaru is publicly placing itself within the same lineage and pedigree as an al Qaeda-affiliated group. This move is unsurprising given Ansaru’s deep historical ties to the global jihadist network.

The historical clips of various al Qaeda figures are interspersed between training footage, including in the manufacturing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and speeches made by members of the group calling on Nigerian Muslims to join their jihad and making general denouncements of democracy.

Much like the video congratulating the Taliban, child soldiers can again be seen in Ansaru’s ranks in this production. 

One speech in the earlier video, however, stands out. Spoken in Arabic, one Ansaru fighter, identified as Abu Omar al-Muhajir, (implying he is a foreigner to the region in which he is fighting) directly refers to Ansaru as being part of al Qaeda’s global network. 

In an attempt to appeal to public support in northwestern Nigeria, Muhajir (seen above) states that local civilians have a choice to standby or do their utmost to help Ansaru “restore the Islamic state upon the best of the Muslims under the banner of al Qaeda.” 

Ansaru formed as a splinter group of the so-called ‘Boko Haram’ in late 2011 at the behest of and with support from al Qaeda, particularly AQIM, which provided the group with financial support and training. The group has been open about its relationship with al Qaeda in the past.

Between 2015 and late 2019, Ansaru was largely dormant inside Nigeria. Since late 2019, in conjunction with worsening communal violence and a rise in general banditry, Ansaru has since become active again in the country’s northwest. 

The group has claimed some attacks online through al Qaeda’s global propaganda arms, though it generally prefers to operate more clandestinely to likely keep attention off of its activities. It has made inroads with some bandit factions in Nigeria’s northwest (to be clear, not all of the region’s bandit factions) in addition to other armed ethnic Fulani groups. 

Independent researchers have found that al Qaeda’s official branch in northwestern Africa, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), has also assisted Ansaru in this comeback. 

With Ansaru’s official revival underway and video productions now being released, it is clear the Nigerian jihadist group is proudly demonstrating its ideological affinity and connections to al Qaeda. 

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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