Nigeria’s Boko Haram islamists have reached out to the Somali jihadist organization al-Shabaab, urging it to switch its loyalty to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Al-Shabaab is currently allied to al-Qaeda, the rival jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s.
Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year. In March, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted an audio recording online, swearing fealty to ISIS:
We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah.
Shortly before accepting Boko Haram’s allegiance, ISIS reportedly reached out to al-Shabaab, sending a message to Somalia inviting the “emir” of al-Shabaab to follow Boko Haram’s example. The message praised al-Shabaab as “brothers in Somalia” and called on them to launch attacks “inside Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.”
Now the Caliphate is reaching out to al-Shabaab through its Nigerian arm of Boko Haram, urging the Somali group to unite.
Al-Qaeda and Islamic State compete for jihadi recruits, and a video posted by an unidentified Boko Haram fighter on Twitter on Wednesday tells al-Shabaab fighters that uniting “is of greater benefit to the struggle on the path of Islam” and will “help in defeating the infidels of the world.”
Nearly two weeks ago, militant extremists in Iraq, Sinai, Syria, and Yemen sent similar messages to al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab uses similar propaganda techniques to those employed by the Islamic State, with slick recruitment videos and magazines that “play upon the marginalization of Muslims and show details of high-profile attacks in Kenya.”
Recent reports suggest that al-Shabaab has, in fact, been stepping up its activity in neighboring Kenya, especially regarding its recruiting efforts. Chief of Kenya Defense Forces General Samson Mwathethe has warned of an increase in the number of Kenyan students going to Somalia to join al-Shabaab.
“This means that all of us, especially parents, must take an active role and work with school administrators to ensure that our children are not radicalized and recruited into the group,” Mwathethe said.
The general also said that young people were easy prey since al-Shabaab has been active on popular social media sites to lure them.
“As we fight terror, let us not forget that the evolution of social media as a result of technological advancements has posed new challenges,” he added. “Our children are exposed to messages loaded with extremist ideologies meant to radicalize their minds.”
Al-Shabaab militants now have a stable presence in northern Kenya, where they have orchestrated several attacks and kidnappings, which makes an alliance with them all the more attractive to ISIS.
Earlier this week, a teacher was abducted at the Hagadera refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya, and al-Shabaab is suspected to be behind the kidnapping.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.