The Tightening Ties between Nigerian Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda

 October 3, 2010

In the past year or so there has been a marked convergence between the radical Nigerian jihadist group popularly known as Boko Haram and the Arab salafi jihadi community. In August 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a communiqué eulogizing Boko Haram's leader Muhammad Yusuf, who had recently been killed by Nigerian security forces. This symbolic show of support was followed up in early 2010, when, following the interconfessional bloodshed in Jos, AQIM urged Nigerian Muslims to wage war against the "Crusader [i.e. Christian] minority," and stated: "We are prepared to provide weapons training to your sons and to provide them with whatever support we can – men, arms, ammunition, and supplies – in order to enable you to defend our people in Nigeria and to repel the wrongs of the Crusader minority." AQIM itself has at least one Nigerian in its ranks; at a two-day jihad seminar held by the organization in the Sahara, a certain "Abu Mihjan the Nigerian" delivered a lecture in the Hausa language. In addition to AQIM's increased attention to Nigeria, Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, the foremost religious authority for global jihadists, has recently corresponded with a certain "Abu Zaytuna," a Nigerian salafi jihadi who wished to know how best to strengthen the jihadist movement in his country. The online jihadist web forums have also taken an increasing interest in the Nigerian issue. In March 2010, the Ansar Al-Mujahideen even produced a video encouraging jihad in Nigeria. Nonetheless, it is clear from the discussion threads on the jihadist forums that Arab salafi jihadis, while clearly interested in fomenting jihad in Nigeria, do not know much about Boko Haram, and have been uncertain as to whether it is an Al-Qaeda-type organization that should be fully endorsed. The salafi jihadi community, as represented by the jihad organizations, the moderators of the online forums, and independent clerics such as Al-Maqdisi, has certain criteria that must be met before an organization is granted recognition as a member in good standing. Their foremost concern is that the organization adhere to salafi jihadi ideology; this is often referred to as having "a clear banner" or "a sound doctrine." AQIM's eulogy for Muhammad Yusuf was a step toward granting this recognition, but generally speaking, Boko Haram has been too much of an unknown quantity to receive full backing. Many of the documents mentioned above did not refer to Boko Haram by name, even as they encouraged jihad in Nigeria. This obstacle is now perhaps being removed...

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