After swearing allegiance to ISIS in March, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has now gone a step further, adopting the new name of the “Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” or ISWAP. The title change is more than semantic and galvanizes the radical Islamist forces in Africa and the Middle East.
The name “Boko Haram,” literally meaning “Western education is a sin,” has been used by the jihadist group since its founding in 2002. On March 13, the leadership of Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which ISIS welcomed as an “expansion of the Caliphate to West Africa.”
Boko Haram initiated military operations in Nigeria in 2009, with the stated goal of imposing Islamic rule in the country. Notorious for its mass killings and kidnappings, the group currently operates within the borders of four Western African countries: Nigeria, Niger, Chad. and Cameroon.
The two terrorist groups have already begun working together, and Boko Haram militants have made several trips to Derna in Libya in order to obtain supplies from ISIS. Up to now, however, the two entities retained their independent status, each employing its own methods and strategies.
But in propaganda materials shared by ISIS-affiliated social media users, Boko Haram has been referring to itself as ISWAP, and has adopted some of the slick production style often associated with the Islamic State.
According to analysts, the name change has a specific meaning: the Nigerian group has agreed to give up part of its autonomy in exchange for protection and support from the leadership of ISIS. Boko Haram, in fact, has suffered increasing military pressure from the armies of several African countries—Chad and Cameroon in particular—who have launched a fierce campaign to dismantle its operations.
Boko Haram’s massacres and kidnappings of civilians have been drawing the opposite effect than intended: instead of garnering respect, they have generated a more determined response, which has weakened the jihadists both operationally and on the level of morale.
This has given rise to a greater need of supplies, troops, equipment, and logistical support, which seemed attainable only by a partial submission to the Islamic State’s direction.
Reports suggest that the Islamic State will appoint a delegate for the area in the coming days, who will flank Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome