This month saw significant speculation about the fate of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and figurehead, after Chadian president Idriss Deby alleged that he had been replaced by another Boko Haram commander named Muhammad Daud. Nonetheless, as NSN member John Campbell points out in his latest blog, Shekau resurfaced a few days later with a threatening audio message re-affirming Boko Haram’s allegiance to Islamic State.
Some observers had assumed that Shekau’s absence from recent Boko Haram videos suggested his fall from power, or even his death. But we would do well to remember the insurgents appear to be diversifying their media strategy, using videos of their operations and talks by other commanders instead of relying solely on routine messages from Shekau. His absence may well be the product of this growing sophistication.
This month’s briefing also deals with news of released Boko Haram captives, with Ryan Cummings providing a critical account of recent reports that 178 captives were freed from Boko Haram. It includes analysis from Jacob Zenn alleging that Boko Haram fighters are mixing with Islamic State militants in Libya. If true, this will raise alarm bells among those who fear growing links between Islamist militants in West Africa and internationally. Finally, Zacharias Pieri completes this month’s briefing with a comprehensive set of analyses from the Global Initiative Analysis, including an editorial focusing on the need for Nigeria to ‘clear, hold, and build’ in the fight against Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s Abubakar Shekau is back, if he ever left
Ambassador John Campbell suggests Abubakar Shekau’s recent audio message puts an end to speculation about his demise. He also notes that the message’s content seems to have more of a global focus than usual, though it is too early to draw any conclusions.
Uncertainty dampens optimism of Boko Haram releases
Ryan Cummings offers a critical account of recent reports that Boko Haram captives have been released. He asks how the military was able to rescue as many as 178 captives on 3 August without them being harmed by Boko Haram in the process. He speculates that there may have been negotiation between Boko Haram and the government to secure the captives.
Wilayat West Africa reboots for the Caliphate
Jacob Zenn analyses the relationship between Boko Haram and Islamic State, arguing that Boko Haram over-extended in its effort to emulate Islamic State and hold territory in recent months. He suggests that one consequence of Boko Haram’s retreat from territory it had managed to capture in 2014/15 is a strengthening of ties with Islamic State militants in Libya.
USF Global Initiative Analysis
Zacharias Pieri and the team at the University of South Florida offer a range of analysis in their latest Global Initiative Analysis, including an editorial focusing on the need for the Nigerian military to hold onto and develop territory it has re-taken from Boko Haram fighters.
Key points from this briefing
- Abubakar Shekau appears to be maintaining his position as leader and figurehead of Boko Haram
- Shekau’s disappearance from Boko Haram’s videos may simply reflect the diversification of the group’s media strategy
- There is cause to doubt recent reports of Boko Haram captives being released from detention, and to think there may be quiet negotiation going on between the insurgents and the government
- Boko Haram over-extended in its bid to capture territory
- There appear to be growing links between Boko Haram and Islamic State militants in Libya
- It is vital for the Nigerian military to ‘clear, hold, build’