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Boko Haram’s ISIS Pledge Brings Jihadi Power Struggle To Africa

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Nigerian jihadi militia Boko Haram has declared itself a franchise of the Islamic State terror group, according to an audio statement from its leader that began circulating Saturday.

The Nigerian group, which previously had loose ties to al-Qaida, has aggressively expanded its reach in recent months to control a swath of territory in the country’s northeast, as well as carrying out attacks in neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. In 2014, it announced the formal creation of an Islamic caliphate on its land, foreshadowing its recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS’ Middle Eastern pseudo-state.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Boko Haram may have been having recent difficulties with al-Qaida’s leadership, accelerating its realignment with ISIS. “A lot of Boko Haram’s recent actions, particularly its mass slaughtering in January, violate the rules for warfare that Ayman al-Zawahiri set down for al-Qaida.” (RELATED: Boko Haram Carries Out Second-Bloodiest Terror Attack In Modern History)

The Islamic State group originated as an al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq shortly after the U.S. invaded the country. It formally severed ties with its parent organization in early 2014, having spent years clashing with al-Qaida over battle tactics and its immediate strategic goals.

Since then, each group has scrambled to gain the upper hand in every possible venue of Islamist violence. After January’s terrorist attacks in Paris, for instance, both groups issued videos praising the murder of staffers at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. (RELATED: Jihadi Statements On Paris Attacks Highlight Rivalry)

Boko Haram is only one group among a terrorist cluster in and around the region known as the Sahel, the broad strip of countries just south of the Sahara that also includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Charlotte Florance, an Africa expert at the Heritage Foundation, told TheDCNF that while many of them are “a bit removed” organizationally from the major global jihadi organizations, “there are very strong financial links” among them, and they share resources such as training techniques.

But Boko Haram, in its ambitious violence, “had been seeking to be on the global extremist stage,” and found a willing partner in Islamic State. And financially, a group that expends energy on racketeering and extortion can be hungry for outside backing: “if there are ways where they don’t have to do the work to get the money, it’s very attractive.”

Like al-Qaida, ISIS supports franchises outside its core territory to give the impression of relentless expansion. Echoing basic marketing principles, Islamic State “provinces” all enjoy the “branding” of the group, while al-Qaida affiliates generally retain their own names and identities.

Both groups support franchises in a variety of ways, including money, weapons and propaganda, and some affiliates retain independence in terms of day-to-day operations. So while Boko Haram now enjoys ISIS’ endorsement, it remains to be seen whether this will change its behavior in Nigeria.

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