As Nigeria and the United States continue to trade wars over the authenticity of the recent link between Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, has said that the link and allegiance between both terrorist groups appear to be authentic.
Reacting to the ongoing controversies over the link, in his new book which was circulated by the United States Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) yesterday, Mr. Campbell said there was an atom of truth in the recording that Boko Haram released where its leader Abubakar Shekau had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“The recording appears to be authentic. Shekau’s pledge goes further than his previous statements of support for ISIS, and was a Boko Haram propaganda coup: once again, the movement made the front page of the New York Times and became a brief media sensation. However, it is unclear what, if any, practical effects this pledge will have” he said.
He pressed further that some commentators see the new relationship between Boko Haram and ISIS as another example of the latter’s efforts to establish a network of franchises beyond its heartland, stressing that a closer association with ISIS might also be a boost to Boko Haram prestige, especially outside of Nigeria.
“The initiative appears to have come from Shekau, and as yet there has been no response from ISIS. Though North African suitors have been turned down in the past, that is unlikely in the case of Boko Haram, given its size. It may be a few days or weeks, however, before there is a public ISIS response” he added.
Commenting on the speculation that Shekau is seeking money, weapons, and even foreign fighters by a closer alignment with ISIS, the former United States envoy noted that there was little evidence that ISIS arms, money, and fighters would be forthcoming. “But, that might change in the future” he added.
Campbell also hinted that it may be unlikely that Boko Haram would attract European or American foreign fighters, adding that most of the foreign fighters that have joined ISIS appear to be of Middle Eastern or North African origin. He also said that the ISIS connection might encourage volunteers from nearby states to join Boko Haram.
Speaking further, the Senior Fellow of the CFR noted that Boko Haram’s leadership and structure appears much more diffused than that of ISIS, stressing that in many ways, Boko Haram resembles a popular uprising that uses Islamic vocabulary and imagery to justify its actions and motivate followers, while ISIS is clearly a centralized terrorist organization with millenarian goals. “Given Boko Haram’s structure, it is unclear how many members of the movement will honor Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS” he added.
He however said that, the Shekau pledge is a sign that Boko Haram, or at least parts of it, is moving away from it its traditional focus on the destruction of the Nigerian state and acquiring a more international character, a development potentially damaging to American interests.