Boko Haram (ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya)



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Boko Haram is a Salafi-jihadi militant organization in Nigeria that operates primarily out of the country's northeast. The group is waging an insurgency against the Nigerian state and seeks to establish shari'a-based governance in the Lake Chad Basin area. The historically fractious group underwent schisms in January 2012, when a faction closer to al Qaeda and operating under the name Ansaru broke away, and in August 2016, when ISIS recognized a new leader. Boko Haram emir Abubakr Shekau leads his faction. ISIS leadership recognizes Abu Musab al Barnawi as the leader of its Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya (West Africa Province).

Founding and a Turn to Violence

This narrative was written by Tom Peters.

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Boko Haram is a Salafi-jihadi militant organiza­tion waging an insurgency against the state in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region. Several competing factions, including ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya, comprise the group. Boko Haram seeks to establish shari’a-based govern­ance in areas under its control.

Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, grew up in an environment steeped in fundamen­talist Islamic teachings like many in Nigeria’s majority-Muslim northeast. Yusuf was raised in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, where he attended a conservative mosque and studied Islamic theo­logians, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Usman Ibn Fodio.[1] Yusuf also received Quranic education in neighboring Chad and Niger, and he quickly became involved in conservative Islamic organiza­tions upon his return to Borno State.[2] Later in life, Yusuf sought refuge from Nigerian authorities in Saudi Arabia, the source of historical Islamic ideo­logues that shaped Yusuf’s rejection of Western modernity.[3]

Yusuf founded Jama’at Ahl al Sunna lil Da’wa wal Jihad (the group of the people of Sunna for preaching and jihad) in 2002. The group is com­monly known as Boko Haram, which roughly translates from Hausa as “Western education is forbidden.” The group seeks to establish an Islamic polity under shari’a-based governance. Yusuf derided Western influence in Nigeria as incompatible with Islam. He gained followers and credibility by speaking out against Western inter­vention in the Middle East, rampant corruption in the Nigerian government, and surging social ine­quality. Yusuf argued that corrupting Western values were the source of the myriad disparities between Lagos and the neglected Muslim north.[4] 

The Borno State administration in northeast­ern Nigeria supported Boko Haram initially. Ali Modu Sheriff was elected governor in 2003 after winning the support of Yusuf and his followers by promising stricter enforcement of shari’a.[5] Sheriff appointed Boko Haram members to the influen­tial Ministry of Religious Affairs. Other Muslim leaders urged the Nigerian government to stop the spread of Yusuf’s ideology, but the govern­ment ignored their pleas.[6]

Despite his earlier alliance with Borno politi­cians, Yusuf soon abandoned cooperation with the state. Tensions increased after Sheriff passed over Yusuf’s acolytes for positions in the lucrative Ministry of Finance. A joint task force assigned to curb crime in Borno State created new conflicts between Yusuf’s men and security forces.[7] From 2003 until 2004, Boko Haram sympathizers launched several deadly attacks against police stations in the northern Yobe and Borno States. Yusuf continued to advocate radical action against the Nigerian state and the corrupt ruling elite, even as Nigerian authorities ratcheted up the pressure on his followers. However, the Nigerian government did not prioritize the rising tensions in the northeast and instead addressed an insurgency in the southern Niger delta region that threatened to disrupt Nigeria’s largest export: oil.[8]

The group shifted strategies at the end of 2004, refocusing on recruiting and gathering resources in the face of a long struggle against the Nigerian authorities. Yusuf took this opportunity to per­form hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) and returned to Nigeria with renewed zeal. He began to combine his fundamentalist preaching with social welfare programs and amassed even more followers by 2007. Yusuf’s ability to mobilize the population in northern Nigeria made him an attractive tool for the political elite, despite Boko Haram’s rejection of state authority. Governor Sheriff appointed Yusuf and another senior Boko Haram member as commissioners of Islamic affairs in 2007, although both resigned over shari’a disputes shortly afterward.[9]

Boko Haram transformed from an often violent religious movement into an insurgency in July 2009. On June 11, 2009, Borno State’s joint task force confronted Boko Haram members riding motorcycles without helmets and killed 17 mili­tants in the ensuing clash.[10] Yusuf was quick to threaten a reprisal, while security forces redou­bled efforts against the group. More than 60 Boko Haram members attacked a police station in Bauchi State on July 26. The following three days of violence between Boko Haram and security forces left more than 800 people dead.[11] Nigerian police officers arrested Yusuf and summarily executed him with several other Boko Haram members on July 30.[12]


[1] Charles Abiodun Alao, “Islamic Radicalization and Violence in Nigeria,” Militancy and Violence in West Africa: Religion, Politics and Radicalization (New York: Routledge, 2013); and Caroline Varin, Boko Haram and the War on Terror (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2016).
[2] Abeeb Olufemi Salaam, “The Psychological Make-Up of Mohammed Yusuf,” e-International Relations, October 1, 2013,
[3] Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
[4] Salaam, “The Psychological Make-Up of Mohammed Yusuf”; and Alain Vicky, “Aux origines de la secte Boko Haram” [The origins of the Boko Haram sect], Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1, 2012, 47604.
[5] Dauda Abubakar, “From Sectarianism to Terrorism in Northern Nigeria: A Closer Look at Boko Haram,” in Violent Non-State Actors in Africa: Terrorists, Rebels and Warlords (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
[6] Associated Press, “Nigeria Accused of Ignoring Sect Warnings Before Wave of Killings,” Guardian, April 2, 2009, https://; Joe Boyle, “Nigeria’s ‘Taliban’ Enigma,” BBC News, July 31, 2009,; and Vicky, “Aux origines de la secte Boko Haram.”
[7] Abubakar, “From Sectarianism to Terrorism in Northern Nigeria.”
[8] Associated Press, “Nigeria Accused of Ignoring Sect Warnings Before Wave of Killings”; Boyle, “Nigeria’s ‘Taliban’ Enigma”; Vicky, “Aux origines de la secte Boko Haram”; and IRIN, “Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence,” January 20, 2012,
[9] Comolli, Boko Haram.
[10] IRIN, “Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence."
[11] Ibid.
[12] Comolli, Boko Haram.
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Dormancy and Resurgence

The 2009 government crackdown successfully quelled the violence. Yusuf’s second-in-command, Abubakr Shekau, announced his control of the group in July 2010 after recovering from injuries sustained while escaping arrest in 2009.[13] Yusuf’s third-in-command, a Cameroonian named Mam­man Nur, likely attempted to lead the group in the interim, but Shekau quickly solidified his position as emir by marrying one of Yusuf’s wives and adopting his children.[14]

Shekau’s rise changed the nature of the Boko Haram insurgency and alienated some who fol­lowed the ideology Yusuf promoted. Shekau was described as coarse and fanatic, in stark contrast to Yusuf’s charisma.[15] He was an avid student of Yusuf in the late 1990s and took Yusuf’s aversion to Western influence to a violent extreme. Shekau also justified the use of child and female opera­tives for suicide operations in pursuit of these beliefs.

Boko Haram launched offensive operations against the Nigerian state in September 2010, when 50 militants attacked a prison in Bauchi State, freeing more than 700 prisoners, including 150 followers of Yusuf.[16] Boko Haram began a campaign of indiscriminate violence across north­eastern Nigeria. Shekau deployed suicide bombers and gunmen to attack civilian centers, churches, mosques, and police stations in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Kano, Kaduna, and Bauchi States. Boko Haram militants targeted civilians, security forces, Christians, and Muslims, in accordance with Shekau’s guidance to kill anyone who did not adhere to his brand of Islam.[17]

The al Qaeda network provided limited sup­port to Boko Haram, although Shekau’s ideologi­cal position likely prevented his group’s full acceptance by al Qaeda. Shekau developed a rela­tionship with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as early as August 2009, when he sent three senior commanders to Mali and Algeria for bomb-making training.[18] Shekau also sought guid­ance from Ayman al Zawahiri to learn more about how al Qaeda is organized, although he never publicly pledged allegiance.[19]

The al Qaeda network provided Boko Haram with the training for its first attack against a Western target. Boko Haram militants detonated a car bomb inside a United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, in August 2011.[20] The at­tack was masterminded by Mamman Nur, Yusuf’s third deputy, who trained with al Shabaab and AQIM before returning to Nigeria in 2011.[21] Nur was likely directed to attack Western inter­ests by his AQIM associates, rather than by Shekau. His al Qaeda contacts also shaped the strategic direction of the splinter group he would soon form.

[13] Comolli, Boko Haram.
[14] BBC News, “Nigeria’s Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau in Profile,” May 9, 2014,; and Leela Jacinto, “The Boko Haram Terror Chief Who Came Back from the Dead,” France24, September 25, 2014,
[15] Comolli, Boko Haram.
[16] BBC News, “Boko Haram Attack Frees Hundreds of Prisoners,” September 8, 2010,
[17] IRIN, “Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence.”
[18] Thomas Joscelyn, “Osama Bin Laden’s Files: AQIM Commander Recommended Training Boko Haram’s Members,” Long War Journal, February 18, 2017,
[19] Thomas Joscelyn, “Osama Bin Laden’s Files: Boko Haram’s Leader Wanted to Be ‘Under One Banner,’” Long War Journal, March 4, 2016,
[20] Vicky, “Aux origines de la secte Boko Haram”; David Smith, “More Than 700 Inmates Escape During Attack on Nigerian Prison,” Guardian, September 8, 2010,; Ndahi Marama, “UN House Bombing: Why We Struck-Boko Haram,” Vanguard, August 28, 2011, 2011/08/un-house-bombing-why-we-struck-boko-haram/; and Uduma Kalu, “How Nur, Shekau Run Boko Haram,” Vanguard, September 3, 2011,
[21] Jacob Zenn, “Leadership Analysis of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, February 24, 2014,
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Ansaru Schism and Escalating Violence

Shekau’s brutal tactics caused a schism in the leadership. Several Boko Haram leaders broke with Shekau in 2012 to form Jama’at Ansar al Muslimin fi Bilad al Sudan (Group of Supporters for Muslims in the Black Lands), commonly known as Ansaru. The faction aligned closely with the al Qaeda network. Ansaru’s leadership included Nur, who retained contact with AQIM after training with its members, and Khalid al Barnawi, one of the senior commanders sent to train with AQIM in Mali and Algeria.[22]

Ansaru’s leaders argued for a strategy more closely aligned with al Qaeda’s strategy. Ansaru leadership advocated targeting security forces and prioritizing international targets. The group par­ticularly focused on kidnapping Westerners in the Lake Chad Basin, either for ransom or prisoner swaps.[23] It also participated in joint operations with the AQIM-affiliated al Mulathamun Bri­gade,[24] led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Algeria and Niger. In contrast to Boko Haram, most of An­saru’s operations were small-scale with meticu­lous planning and execution. Ansaru effectively ceased operations by late 2013 but continued to publish propaganda.[25]  Several of Ansaru’s top leaders likely reintegrated into Shekau’s Boko Haram, including Khalid al Barnawi. When al Barnawi was arrested in Nigeria in April 2016, the military identified him as a member of Boko Haram’s Shura Council.[26]

Shekau’s Boko Haram increased its campaign of indiscriminate violence across northern Nigeria during this time. Militants bombed several gov­ernment buildings in Kano before driving through the city and shooting civilians in a January 2012 attack that killed at least 185 people. A roadside massacre of civilians in September 2013 killed at least 160 people in Borno State. Boko Haram killed more than 4,000 civilians and security per­sonnel in Nigeria in attacks attributed to it from 2012 to 2014.[27]


[22] Jacob Zenn, “Leadership Analysis of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria.”
[23] Jacob Zenn, “Cooperation or Competition: Boko Haram and Ansaru After the Mali Intervention,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, March 27, 2013,
[24] Al Mulathamun Brigade merged with another AQIM splinter group in August 23 to form al Murabitoun.
[25] Katherine Zimmerman, “The al Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, September 1, 2013,; Jacob Zenn, “Nigerian al-Qaedaism,” Hudson Institute, March 11, 2014,; Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Video Message from Katibat al-Mulathamun: ‘Epic Battles of the Fathers: The Battle of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hamid Abu Zayd,’” Jihadology, September 9, 2013,; and Counter Extremism Project, “Mamman Nur,”
[26] Eunice Wanjiru, “Top Nigerian Militant Arrested,” Deutsche Welle, April 4, 2016,
[27] IRIN, “Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence.”
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Notoriety and Territorial Maximum

Boko Haram leveraged existing recruiting efforts and newfound international notoriety to add to its ranks, augment its capabilities, and expand territorially in 2014.

Yusuf’s folk-hero status, not Shekau’s leader­ship, among the impoverished population of northern Nigeria lent Boko Haram support and recruits even though Shekau had been emir of the group for nearly five years. Yusuf’s exhortations and Shekau’s attacks against the yan boko (edu­cated elite) resonated strongly with the locals who felt forgotten by Abuja and Lagos.[28] Shekau’s role as a longtime deputy to Yusuf and his contin­ued presence in Borno State, the birthplace of Boko Haram, also gave him clout with grassroots supporters.[29]

Endemic issues in northern Nigeria also con­tributed to Boko Haram’s growth. Tough living conditions brought on by mass unemployment and poverty factored into youth radicalization.[30] Boko Haram recruited successfully among chil­dren with difficult upbringings, even when Boko Haram caused their troubles.[31] Boko Haram’s ideology could spread in part because of religious ignorance and illiteracy in the population. Abuses by Nigerian security forces against the civilian population during counter–Boko Haram opera­tions further legitimized the grievances that Boko Haram championed.[32] For example, the Nigerian Army executed at least 640 detainees at a Maidu­guri detention center in March 2014.[33]

Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 female students from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, catapulted the group onto the world stage. The event sparked international outrage. US First Lady Michelle Obama promoted the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag, and the Chibok kidnapping became the most-tweeted topic on Twitter and triggered protests worldwide. Most importantly, it demonstrated that Boko Haram could execute high-visibility attacks on the same order of magnitude as well-known and established Salafi-jihadi groups.

Boko Haram rapidly seized control of territory in the summer of 2014, putting its newfound fame and fresh recruits to work. The Nigerian military was not prepared. Nigerian soldiers, facing supe­rior numbers and firepower, often deserted their posts during Boko Haram offensives. Allegations of officers collaborating with militants likewise broke morale among frontline troops.[34] Boko Haram militants swarmed across Borno, Ada­mawa, and Yobe States in Nigeria; the Far North Region of Cameroon; the Diffa region of Niger; and Lake Province in Chad. By the beginning of 2015, Boko Haram controlled a swath of land roughly the size of Belgium.[35]

Al Qaeda refused to partner with Shekau’s Boko Haram despite the group’s expanded terri­tory and global notoriety. Al Qaeda–linked maga­zine al Risala prominently featured an article by an Ansaru leader that condemned Shekau’s tac­tics.[36] Increasingly public criticism and the refusal to openly partner with Boko Haram indicated that al Qaeda leadership likely wished to distance the al Qaeda brand name from Shekau because of his use of women and children as suicide bombers.[37] AQIM spiritual leader Abu Mundhir al Shinqiti even issued a fatwa against indiscriminately kill­ing schoolchildren, likely aimed at Shekau.[38]

[28] Freedom Onuoha, “Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram?,” United States Institute of Peace, June 2014, publications/2014/06/why-do-youth-join-boko-haram.
[29] Zenn, “Leadership Analysis of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria.”
[30] Onuoha, “Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram?”
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Amnesty International, “Nigeria: No Justice for the 640 Men and Boys Slain by Military Following Giwa Barracks Attack Two Years Ago,” March 14, 2016,
[34] Associated Press, “Hundreds Flee Homes in Northern Nigeria as Boko Haram Move In,” Guardian, September 5, 2014, https://
[35] Agence France-Presse, “Nigeria and Neighbours Hold Talks on Boko Haram’s Advance,” Guardian, September 3, 2014, https://; Associated Press, “Boko Haram Commander Reportedly Killed in Clash with Nigerian Forces,” Guardian, September 13, 2014, 13/boko-haram-commander-reportedly-killed-in-clash-with-nigerian-forces; and Lanre Ola, “Suspected Boko Haram Fighters Mount Deadly Attacks After Nigeria Ceasefire,” Reuters, October 18, 2014, http://
[36] Joscelyn, “Osama bin Laden’s Files.”
[37] Ibid.
[38] Zenn, “Nigerian al-Qaedaism.”
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MNJTF Offensive and Pledge to ISIS

The Chibok kidnapping and Boko Haram’s seem­ingly effortless capture of Nigeria’s northeast hu­miliated President Goodluck Jonathan in the lead up to the 2015 Nigerian presidential elections. He lost the backing of his party’s powerbrokers, and his opponent Muhammadu Buhari took every opportunity to excoriate him for allowing the north to fall. Jonathan announced a renewed offensive against Boko Haram after a summit with other West African leaders.[39]

Jonathan turned to the other states in the Lake Chad Basin to create a regional force to repel Boko Haram’s advances. The resulting Multina­tional Joint Task Force (MNJTF) includes Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. An African Union mandate afforded the MNJTF latitude to conduct operations throughout Boko Haram’s area of operations, although each country’s troops were confined within their own borders until March 2015.[40] The US and EU supported the MNJTF. The US deployed troops to Cameroon and Niger to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, while the French Air Force began providing close air support to troops in Niger and Chad.[41] The regional force made rapid progress, recapturing 11 of the 14 Boko Haram–controlled districts in northeast Nigeria by mid-March 2015.[42]

Shekau pledged bayat (allegiance) to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi on March 7, 2015.[43] Boko Haram was losing territory rapidly at the time, and Shekau sought to encourage ISIS to accept his pledge by conducting a multipronged suicide attack on Maiduguri, killing at least 58 civilians and wounding more than 150.[44] ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani welcomed Shekau’s pledge of allegiance one week later and dubbed Boko Haram ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya (Province of West Africa).[45]


[39] Sun, “Jonathan Tasks Defence, Foreign Ministers of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Benin on Boko Haram’s Defeat,” October 14, 2014,; and Martin Williams, “African Leaders Pledge ‘Total War’ on Boko Haram After Nigeria Kidnap,” Guardian, May 17, 2014, https://www.theguardian. com/world/2014/may/17/west-african-countries-must-unite-fight-boko-haram-nigeria.
[40] Right of pursuit for cross-border operations was affirmed by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in March 2015. See William Assanvo, Jeannine Ella A. Abatan, and Wendyam Aristide Sawadogo, “Assessing the Multinational Joint Task Force Against Boko Haram,” Institute for Security Studies, September 2016,
[41] Agence France-Presse, “Obama to Deploy 200 US troops to Cameroon to Fight Boko Haram,” Guardian, October 14, 2015,; Jack Moore, “French Air Force Back Fight Against Boko Haram on Nigeria’s Borders,” Newsweek, February 4, 2015,; and Barbara Starr, “U.S. Special Forces Wage Secretive ‘Small Wars’ Against Terrorists,” CNN, May 12, 2016,
[42] Chris Ewokor, “Is the Tide Turning Against Boko Haram?,” BBC News, March 21, 2015,
[43] Thomas Joscelyn, “Boko Haram Pledges Allegiance to the Islamic State,” Long War Journal, March 8, 2015, http://www.
[44] Ola’ Audu, “Maiduguri Multiple Bomb Attacks: 55 Killed, 146 Injured in Five Suicide Attacks,” Premium Times, March 7, 2015,
[45] BBC News, “Islamic State ‘Accepts’ Boko Haram’s Allegiance Pledge,” March 13, 2015,
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Another Schism

Shekau’s violent and indiscriminate tactics caused another rift in the organization even more serious than the Ansaru dispute. Shekau’s cavalier use of takfir (declaring another Muslim an apostate and sentencing him or her to death) in targeting civil­ian populations proved to be too extreme even for ISIS.[46] ISIS leadership most likely relayed guid­ance to Shekau to end this practice, among oth­ers, because it broke from practices condoned under ISIS’s ideology.[47] Boko Haram fractured. ISIS recognized Abu Mus’ab al Barnawi, the 22-year-old son of Boko Haram founder Mohammad Yusuf, as the new leader of ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya in August 2016.[48] Barnawi announced that the group would absolutely prohibit targeting Muslim civilians in a sharp break with the prac­tices of Shekau’s faction. Barnawi refo­cused the fight on security forces, MNJTF troops, and Christians.[49] ISIS propaganda later framed ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya’s insurgency as a popular struggle between Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christians backed by the MNJTF and the West.[50]

Shekau and his deputies publicly rejected ISIS’s decision, claiming that Barnawi did not fol­low authentic Islam and that his decisions were not sound according to Islamic teachings.[51] Inter­necine clashes between the rival factions broke out in the Monguno and Marte local governments in Borno State. The two factions disengaged after a few weeks. Shekau’s faction reverted to its origi­nal name (Jama’at Ahl al Sunna lil Da’wa wal Jihad).

Both Boko Haram factions retreated to sepa­rate spheres of influence in the Lake Chad region. The principal cell of Shekau’s faction operates out of the Sambisa Forest reserve in northeastern Nigeria, where it has mounted regular attacks on Maiduguri and surrounding locales throughout 2017.[52] Another Shekau-faction cell is likely based in the Waza National Park in northern Cameroon, where locals have reported militant activity and surrounding villages have been regularly attacked by female suicide bombers.[53] ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya is principally based in the Lake Chad Basin region, from which it has published propa­ganda in late 2016 and 2017.[54] The faction also likely has a smaller cell in the Agijin Forest reserve on the border of Borno and Yobe States, which launched attacks on the Nigerian military near Kamuya in early 2017.[55] A faction led by Mamman Nur, loosely allied with Barnawi, likely operates in the Kala-Balge region of Nigeria near the Cameroon border, according to captured militants.[56]

Shekau’s faction retains the capability for frequent, high-casualty attacks. During Ramadan in 2017, the group launched at least 39 attacks across the region, with almost daily suicide bombings in northern Cameroon and a complex incursion into Maiduguri city with vehicles and suicide bombers.[57] ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya has conducted sporadic attacks against MNJTF forces around Lake Chad and northern Nigeria.[58] Both groups publish propaganda that attempts to show implementation of shari’a among locals, although neither group controls any significant populated locations.[59]

The groups showed brief signs of deconfliction before reverting to overt opposition. In June and July 2017, suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers and militants attacked two towns in the Diffa re­gion. Although the Diffa region is adjacent to ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya’s territory, the attacks used dis­tinctive Shekau-faction tactics, including female suicide bombers and summary execution of civil­ians, indicating that the Shekau faction may enjoy freedom of operation in its rival fac­tion’s terri­tory.[60] ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya fur­ther affirmed its continued opposition to Shekau in August, releasing a propaganda video titled “Exposing Shekau’s Intentions,” in which the group rebukes Shekau for targeting Muslim civil­ians.[61] A day earlier, likely Shekau faction mili­tants executed several dozen civilians near ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya’s stronghold on Lake Chad.[62]

While both factions retain capabilities for sustained violence, ISIS Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyya’s strategy of avoiding popular alienation by only targeting security forces will likely pay dividends in the long term.[63] Barnawi’s faction also enjoys some degree of support and central direction from Islamic State central leadership, while Shekau’s faction persists without substantial outside backing. While Shekau appears content with ravaging the unstable Lake Chad region, the Islamic State has clearly defined goals of attacking Western—particularly American— interests. Shekau’s dogged proclamations that his faction will baqiyya (remain) ensures that some iteration of Boko Haram will exist in Nigeria in the future, but the burgeoning Barnawi faction—with visions of attacking American targets and likely more support—poses a clear and growing threat to  American lives in West Africa.

[46] Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser told the US Senate during a hearing to confirm his appointment as the commander of US Africa Command that Shekau “uses children as suicide bombers, he attacks other Muslims, and he's been told by [ISIS] to stop doing that, but he has not done so. And that's one of the reasons why this splinter group has broken off.” US Senate, Committee on Armed Services, “Hearing to Consider the Nominations of: Lieutenant General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC, to Be General and Commander, United States Africa Command; and Lieutenant General Joseph L. Lengyel, ANG, to Be General and Chief of the National Guard Bureau,” transcript, June 21, 2016,
[47] Jacob Zenn, conversation with the author, May 2017.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Ibid.
[50] SITE Intelligence, “IS’ al-Naba Newspaper Interviews West Africa ‘Governor’ Abu Musab al-Barnawi,” August 3, 2016,
[51] SITE Intelligence, “‘Boko Haram’ Fighter Challenges IS’ Appointment of Barnawi, Threatens Nigeria to Take War to Capital,” August 8, 2016,; and SITE Intelligence, “Abu Bakr Shekau Criticizes IS’ West Africa ‘Governor’ in Alleged Audio, Exposes Rift in Group,” August 4, 2016,
[52] SaharaTV, “Abubakar Shekau’s Faction of Boko Haram Releases Video Showing Signs of Desperation as a Consequence,” YouTube, April 3, 2017,; Abdulkareem Haruna, “In New Video, Boko Haram Leader Shekau Claims Victory in Maiduguri Attack, Gives Condition for Ceasefire,” Premium Times, June 11, 2017, https://www.; and SaharaReporters, “Boko Haram Leader Releases Video Revealing Abduction of Policewomen,” June 26, 2017,
[53] ActuCameroun, “Cameroun—Terrorisme: Des éléments de Boko Haram signalés dans le parc de Waza,” March 4, 2017,; and Al Jazeera, “Cameroon-Nigeria Border: 12 Killed in Suicide Attack,” July 13, 2017,
[54] SITE Intelligence, “IS’ West Africa Province Claims Killing 8 African Coalition Forces, Shows Shariah Implementation in Lake Chad Area,” December 16, 2016,; and SITE Intelligence, “IS Claims Previously Unreported Attacks in West Africa, Killing More Than 74 in Naba 87,” June 29, 2017,
[55] Vanguard, “Al-Barnawi Boko Haram Faction Responsible for Recent Attack,” January 28, 2017, https://www.vanguardngr. com/2017/01/al-barnawi-boko-haram-faction-responsible-recent-attack/.
[56] Kayode Idowu, “I Killed 18 Civilians, Confesses 17-Year-Old Boko Haram Suspect,” Punch, March 29, 2017, http://punchng. com/i-killed-18-civilians-confesses-17-year-old-bharam-suspect/.
[57] Rida Lyammouri, “Boko Haram Had a Busy Ramadan in 2017, Which Reflected One of the Group’s More Successful Recent Thirty-Day Spans in Terms of Violence,” Maghreb and Sahel, July 11, 2017,
[58] SITE Intelligence, “IS Claims Previously Unreported Attacks in West Africa.”
[59] SITE Intelligence, “IS’ West Africa Province Claims Killing 8 African Coalition Forces”; SaharaTV, “Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Attack on Military Convoy,” YouTube, June 25, 2017,; and Agence France-Presse, “Boko Haram Executes Eight for Defying ‘Sharia Police’: Video,” Daily Mail, July 11, 2017, afp/article-4685476/Boko-Haram-executes-eight-defying-Sharia-police-video.html.
[60] ActuNiger, “DIFFA: Deux kamikazes se font explosés dans un camp de réfugiés près de Kablewa,” June 30, 2017, http://; and ActuNiger, “Neuf personnes tués par des combattants présumés de Boko Haram à N'galewa (sud-est du Niger),” July 3, 2017, http://
[61] Gumata Wa Arne, “Fallasa Kudurin Shekau,” YouTube, August 6, 2017, (unavailable October 5, 2017).
[62] Jerrywright Ukwu, “Boko Haram Kills 31 Fishermen in Lake Chad Area,” NAIJ, August 8, 2017,
[63] Omar Mahmood, “A Shift in Strategies by Boko Haram’s New Leader May Swell Its Ranks,” Mail & Guardian Africa, September 28, 2016,
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