Ansaru reaffirms its allegiance to al Qaeda

Al Qaeda’s franchise in Nigeria, Jamaat Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, better known as Ansaru, reconfirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda in a recent statement released online. 

“Our group, may God cherish it, gave bay’ah [pledged allegiance] to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the year 2020,” Ansaru’s statement affirms. No specific date or other details were given about the pledge.

It also adds that “Ansar al Muslimeen is active in the north of Nigeria, near the borders of Niger and Benin to the north and west.” 

The statement offers little additional detail regarding its exact relationship with al Qaeda. Neither al Qaeda’s central leadership nor al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have explicitly discussed the group’s role within the organization since Ansaru’s operational return. 

Independent sources, however, have confirmed that Ansaru maintains operational ties to AQIM’s Sahelian branch, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). For instance, the International Crisis Group found last year that JNIM has provided Ansaru with small-arms captured from the conflicts in the Sahel. 

Most of the information regarding Ansaru’s continued allegiance to and membership within al Qaeda comes from its propaganda. 

Since Ansaru’s public resurgence in late 2019, media produced by the group has documented Ansaru’s clear ideological affinity to the global jihadist organization. For instance, in Nov. 2021 a video from the group surfaced online featuring more traditional al Qaeda imagery in which clips of Osama bin Laden, the September 11 attacks, and visual eulogies for dead al Qaeda leaders were shown. 

And in Dec. 2021, another video was released online in which Ansaru publicly congratulated the Afghan Taliban for its capture of Afghanistan. This statement, which was released months after it was produced, followed similar statements released by other al Qaeda branches and franchises.

Meanwhile, some of the group’s attacks have been publicly claimed by al Qaeda’s global propaganda arms. Supporters of al Qaeda have additionally shared other media produced by Ansaru, while the group also maintains its own forum on al Qaeda’s main Rocket.Chat server – though it is largely dormant. 

Ansaru provides a brief background on its founding

In addition to confirming its allegiance remains with al Qaeda, Ansaru’s recent statement also provided a brief explanation of its founding, though most of the information provided is already known. 

For instance, Ansaru states it was founded as a breakaway group from the so-called ‘Boko Haram’ in early 2012 after its leader, Abubakar Shekau, “began showing extremism and deviation in belief.” 

According to the group, “it was necessary for us to separate from him [Shekau] and announce our disavowal of him.” 

This explanation of Ansaru’s founding was also discussed in the group’s founding statement. Moreover, AQIM itself previously discussed Ansaru’s founding and how it related to Shekau’s “deviance” in a book it published in 2017. 

While not mentioned by Ansaru’s recent statement, its split from Shekau was done at the behest of and with support from AQIM. This creation gave AQIM a less problematic affiliate, in regard to Shekau’s wanton killing of civilians, in which to continue its reach into Nigeria.

Ansaru itself was thus open about its relationship with al Qaeda in the past.

AQIM previously supported Shekau, including training and funding of Shekau’s ‘Boko Haram,’ while Shekau also had allegiance to al Qaeda at some point prior to his defection to the Islamic State in 2015. It is unclear if Shekau maintained this allegiance, following the creation of Ansaru and al Qaeda turning its focus to supporting the faction it encouraged to split from Shekau.

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. 

As the group closed out its most recent statement, it is now “continuing in da’wah [proselytizing] and jihad in fighting the spiteful infidels and renegade apostates” in Nigeria’s northwest. And in doing so, it is doing it under the umbrella of al Qaeda. 

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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