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‘Islamic State in West Africa’: Boko Haram Rebrands

Months after accepting a pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, the Islamic State has released propaganda through its social media outlets in which the Nigerian group refers to itself as “Islamic State West Africa Province” (ISWAP), suggesting their merger is finally complete.

The Nigerian terrorist group released a set of new images and video over the weekend, in which they referred to themselves with the new name and, for the first time, appeared unmasked and easily recognizable. The BBC notes that, while the terrorists in the video appear to be members of Boko Haram, the video was distributed through Islamic State social media sites and appears to be an official ISIS propaganda release. The outlet notes also, however, that Boko Haram has referred to itself as ISWAP in previously released materials.

The Independent adds that the images, unlike much of ISIS’s output, does not focus on specific arguments justifying their jihad, nor does it appear to attempt to portray the jihadists as capable of reconstructing society into a Sharia-compliant tyranny. Instead, the release consists of simple images of the men brandishing their weapons menacingly, and threatening to continue their jihad under the auspices of the Islamic State.

BBC notes that this is the first release of propaganda since Abubakar Shekau, the head of Boko Haram, reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio clip surfacing in March. Shekau is nowhere to be seen in the new images, and it is not clear whether he approved of such a complete merger and name change. It is notable that, in the latest releases where Shekau allegedly appears, he calls Boko Haram “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,” its official name.

Nigeria’s Daily Times adds that the images appear to have been taken in the Sambisa Forest, a dense area believed to be the group’s last stronghold and hiding place for the more than 200 girls kidnapped from northern Chibok in April 2014. Daily Times posits that the location, coupled with the lack of gruesome images, “is perhaps symptomatic of the group’s rapid decline in influence over the past months.”

The Daily Mail has a more extensive set of images from the propaganda dump this weekend.

Even before the official announcement of Boko Haram’s allegiance to the Islamic State, American intelligence sources had reason to believe that the terror groups were working together. Reports in March alleged that Boko Haram and ISIS members were training alongside each other at terrorist camps, and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan claimed there was evidence to believe Boko Haram terrorists had traveled to ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria to receive training.

While the Nigerian government has attempted to claim great strides in the fight against Boko Haram, reality set in this weekend as the terror group ravaged Karamga Island in Lake Chad, on the border between Chad and Nigeria. Vanguard reports that Karamga Island became the latest cite of a Boko Haram massacre this weekend, with civilians jumping into the lake and trying to swim away from the jihadists. Boko Haram members responded by shooting at the water. Said one witness:

After finishing with the soldiers, (the Islamists) turned their guns on residents… Some sought to escape by plunging into the lake but gunmen stood on the shore shooting them…

“They would aim their gun from the edge of the lake and shoot any head that emerged from the water, shouting Allahu Akbar. They burnt the entire village and went on a shooting spree. Many residents were burnt alive in their homes.

There is no estimated death toll for the Karamga Island massacre yet, though experts believe it to be “huge.”

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