Foreign Policy Diary ‘War on Terror’

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Jihadi group Boko Haram has changed its name to ISWAP or Islamic State’s West Africa Province. Boko Haram is terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. The group is led by Abubakar Shekau. Estimates of the group’s membership vary between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters. The group initially had links to al-Qaeda, but in 2014 it expressed support for the Islamic State before pledging formal allegiance to it in March 2015. This move appears to give the Islamic State a foothold outside of the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, as terrorist organization tries to create a global caliphate.

Hundreds of decomposing bodies have been found dead in the north-east Nigerian town of Damask, apparently victims of the ISWAP insurgency, as details emerged on Monday of fresh attacks by the militants. Totally, ISWAP is responsible for over 5,500 civilian death since 2014. North-east Nigeria has been relentlessly targeted throughout the jihadists’ six-year uprising but there had been a lull in violence in recent weeks. A coalition of troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria opposes ISWAP in this region.

Recent video released by IS sang the praises of Boko Haram fighters, while the Nigeria-based militant group also released a propaganda video, via IS’s social media channels. The accounts dropped the name Boko Haram, as well as its official title, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” Instead the Nigerian group was referred to as ISWAP. The photographs all carried the logos, which have been typically seen in official IS material that has been published. This would appear to show that the terror group has taken full control of propaganda in its new province.

The Islamic State media campaign is overseen by Abu Amr al Shami, a Syrian born in Saudi Arabia, who was previously IS leader in Aleppo. Initially Islamic State has become widely known with its horrific videos of executions. However, it uses diverse range of tools from static websites, chat forums, and online magazines to making efficient use of today’s interactive and fast-paced social media platforms. IS’s followers are loud and noisy, tweeting, streaming and Instagramming their exploits. Terror is now being transmitted across the globe in real time. Islamic State is an active user of blogs, instant messaging, video sharing sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr and Ask FM. Its media campaign underscores that terror can be streamed and sold with graphic images, audio messages, and music. This campaign is an effective tool for psychological operations and for recruitment. Social media is the most popular medium for young people to communicate today. It is trendy, interactive, and is populated by a very young and sometimes naïve demographic. IS has brought propaganda of terror to a whole new level and today it has come to the West Africa.

In interview on April 22, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia is arming Syria and Iraq to help them battle the Islamic State and called U.S.-led coalition strikes against the group ineffective, Reuters reports. “We are helping both Iraq and Syria, possibly more effectively than anyone else, by providing weapons to their armies and security forces,” he said. Lavrov criticized the U.S.-led efforts to battle the militant group, and called on Washington to work with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the fight against IS. Meanwhile, US-backed Saudi coalition is continuing airstrikes in Yemen. On April 27, airstrikes targeted a civilian aircraft, which was operated by Yemen based Felix Airways. Local media reported that a plane carried food and humanitarian aid has also been hit. While the Islamic State terror group sees an opening in the chaos and is looking to establish a new branch in Yemen, US-backed Saudi’s coalition prefers to conduct airstrikes against Houthis forces, not against terrorists. Apparently, Saudi-led coalition is ignoring terroristic threat in Yemen for own political interests.

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