Small Wars Journal

Remaining and Expanding: Why Local Violent Extremist Organizations Reflag to ISIS

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 2:18am

Remaining and Expanding: Why Local Violent Extremist Organizations Reflag to ISIS

Nicholas A. Glavin


As the U.S.-led coalition nears the military defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the collapse of its physical caliphate in the Levant, its various affiliates pose complex threats to host nation governments and Western interests from West Africa to Southeast Asia. Understanding how, when, and why local violent extremist organizations (VEOs) affiliate can inform policymakers and general officers in applying instruments of national power. This report analyzes Islamic State – West Africa Province and Islamic State – Sinai Province to examine the question, “What explains the appeal for local VEOs to reflag under the ISIS brand?”

In June 2014, ISIS captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, as a fragmented Iraq Security Forces (ISF) deserted their posts in northern Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself as caliph at the al-Nuri Mosque and rebranded ISIS to the Islamic State. This image brought a sense of legitimacy and urgency to the millenarian organization as it sustained a theological imperative and held territory. This is not the norm in the global jihadist landscape. ISIS’ competitors, al-Qaeda, maintained a different perspective in the pursuit of a caliphate. Al-Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden (UBL) urged strategic patience in declaring a caliphate to avoid provoking international forces. In a letter to then-emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Nasir al-Wuhayshi, UBL cautioned,

“[we] want Sana’a to establish an Islamic State, but first, we want to make sure that we have the capability to gain control of it. Even though we were able to militarily and economically exhaust and weaken our greatest enemy before and after [September 11th, 2001], the enemy continues to possess the ability to topple any state we establish.”[i]

ISIS’ primary objective is baqiya wa tatamadad, or remaining and expanding.[ii] On November 10, 2014, jihadists from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all swore allegiance to ISIS’ caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[iii] As depicted in Figure 1, ISIS’s global strategy includes three geographic sectors: The Interior Ring, the Near Abroad, and the Far Abroad. It intends to defend and expand its Interior Ring (Syria and Iraq) and Near Abroad (Greater Middle East and North Africa region) while it polarizes Muslim communities in the Far Abroad. ISIS’ global operations provide strategic resiliency and a multi-front protracted conflict against several states to counterbalance setbacks in the Levant.[iv]


Figure 1: ISIS’ Global Strategy and Locations of Wilayats as of 2015.[v] Map by the Institute for the Study of War

Organizational Framework and Affiliation Process

The bay`a is a pledge of allegiance that brings an entity under the authority of a caliph and reaffirms his political legitimacy, once accepted. The bay`a process is a meticulous calculation by ISIS core to incorporate formal affiliates who will strengthen its strategic direction and narrative. Formal recognition only occurs with the recognition of leadership by ISIS core and/or the establishment of a direct line of communication to receive orders from al-Baghdadi.[vi] A global caliphate project requires serious management in harmonizing groups from different cultural affinities and environments into one cohesive ideological entity. ISIS pursues organizational unity by vetting pledges to ensure its affiliates are led by trusted individuals with an operational connection between each organization.[vii]

The high-end cooperation through bay`a between ISIS core and its affiliates is categorized as a strategic alliance. This is a partnership in which the entities share know-how and resources; retain ownership of their assets and command-and-control; have designated individuals to act as liaisons; and maintain a high degree of ideological overlap and agreement at the strategic level.[viii] Six factors influence a parent organization’s decision to pursue a strategy of branching out: when franchising is seen as conducive to attaining political objectives and superior to other methods of expansion; when ideology calls for which territories to be controlled irrespective of nation-state boundaries; when an organization perceives itself as the vanguard to a specific group; when decentralization offers more effective management in varying operational environments; when an organization experiences success and intends to expand to increase political returns; and to offset an organization’s distress in order for branching out to substitute for operational success.[ix] ISIS’ global expansion follows each of these drivers.

ISIS, much like al-Qaeda, branches out its operations to franchises. It refers to these administrative divisions as wilayat, or provinces. This organizational expansion model drives strategic direction from Iraq and Syria while its franchises run all aspects at the operational and tactical levels. This approach harnesses the unique characteristics of the franchises’ leadership, rank-and-file members, and operational environments.[x] Through this framework, ISIS senior leadership chooses to affiliate with an established non-state armed group in a geographic region of strategic importance, vice an expansion of its own cadres to new areas. Its Salafist-jihadist ideology determines the scope and scale of its expansion to areas of greater historical and political significance.[xi] This is most evident in Figure 2, which traces historical caliphates over ISIS’ operational environment. However, franchising a jihadist organization abroad carries several risks. These strategic alliances can damage the organization’s reputation in the event of failure; strengthen international counterterrorism efforts; damage coherence to ideology when partnering with an affiliate driven by local grievances; and threaten the authority of the group’s leadership.[xii]


Figure 2: Areas of Operation of ISIS and Affiliates in 2015 Overlaid With the Boundaries of Historical Caliphates[xiii]

Islamic State – Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai)


Figure 3: Sinai Peninsula and Surrounding Areas[xiv]

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) was the most capable jihadist organization to join ISIS’ global network in the first set of accepted pledges in November 2014.[xv] This strategic alliance placed Sinai Province on a path to increase its lethality, tie its grievances to a more salient narrative, and receive the international recognition of the ISIS brand. It followed in the footsteps of its predecessors by targeting Egypt’s fragile tourist industry, security forces, and Israel. Sinai Province also internalized a deadly dimension of ISIS’ targeting strategy: attacking places of worship to inflame sectarian tensions, particularly those between Muslims and Coptic Christians.[xvi]

Sinai Province maintains a strength of several hundred fighters in the Sinai Peninsula and affiliated cells in the Nile Valley. In addition to basing its operations in northern Sinai, its operational reach extends to Cairo and Gaza.[xvii] There is also a separate, informal affiliate on the mainland, under the name ISIS-Egypt. It is not controlled by Sinai Province, although there are reports of collaboration between the two entities. The Giza governorate cell, however, suffers from a lack of experienced recruits and faces a “home-turf” advantage by Egyptian security services to target degrade its networks.[xviii] Sinai Province controls some of the smuggling routes on the peninsula and this facilitates cash, weapons, and even foreign terrorist fighters from Iraq and Syria. Further, it continues to receive money from ISIS core through third-party countries in the region.[xix]

Sinai Province increased its capabilities in the year following its affiliation with ISIS. On July 1, 2015, Sinai Province launched a wave of simultaneous attacks targeting nearly two dozen Egyptian military and police positions in and around the North Sinai city of Sheikh Zuweid, ISIS’ most complex ground assault outside of Iraq and Syria at the time.[xx] Nearly two weeks later, Sinai Province struck an Egyptian naval vessel with a missile off the coast of the northern Sinai Peninsula.[xxi] On October 31, 2015, Sinai Province detonated an IED aboard Metrojet Flight 9268 departing Sharm el Sheikh to Saint Petersburg in retribution for Russian and Syrian airstrikes against the group in Syria, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.[xxii] Its high-profile targeting strategies and tactics would change over the next several years as regional counterterrorism degraded its capabilities.


Historical dynamics in the Sinai Peninsula, straddling both Egypt and Israel, perpetuate cycles of distrust, violence, and the repression of the local Bedouin population. Following the withdrawal by Israel and the Sinai’s return to Egypt in 1982, the Egyptian government framed the peninsula and its local Bedouin population as a threat rather than an opportunity. This brought forth security-centric policies of repressing and leveraging tribal leaders for intelligence-gathering purposes.[xxiii] At the same time, Bedouins in Sinai identify more closely to the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf regions rather than the Nile Delta.[xxiv] This paranoia from Cairo, juxtaposed with the lack of cultural and historical affinity from the tribes in Sinai, led to fertile grounds for insurgency. Bedouin exclusion from any part in the government or security forces continue to drive the Bedouins’ main grievance of marginalization and disenfranchisement.

The influx of Salafi-Jihadists into the region in the late 1990s and early 2000s transformed the Sinai into an extremist hotbed. The local Bedouins’ affinity to the Gulf enabled these jihadists from primarily Gulf states to settle in their territories and external parties began radicalizing the youth at a scale not previously seen.[xxv] Khaled Musai’d founded al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Struggle, or MSS) in 1997, and disparate jihadists cells coalesced around his leadership by 2005. A group inspired by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s deadly organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), MSS sought large-scale attacks on tourist destinations to strike at the center of the Sinai’s economy. Musai’d created much more than an Islamist resistance; he built a networked-organization with multiple cells in five areas across the Sinai.[xxvi] The group is responsible for the deaths of over a hundred tourists and the injuring of hundreds more in a series of attacks between 2004 and 2006 in Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh, and Dahab.[xxvii]


Government crackdowns in the mid-2000s escalated unrest in the Sinai. Cairo initiated a widespread crackdown in the Sinai to capture the perpetrators behind the terrorist attack in 2004, arresting around 3,000 individuals in the process.[xxviii] The blanket and indiscriminate measures in the wake of these terrorist attacks negatively affected Egypt’s domestic security environment. This repeated tactic influenced instability on the peninsula and facilitated a common enemy for Bedouin tribes and Salafist-jihadists. Cairo’s heavy-handed approach created an opportunity for bringing these two groups together and suppressed the Bedouins’ capabilities to handle the instability on their own.[xxix]

2010-2011 marked a turning point for the Sinai insurgency. Jihadists sought refuge in the Sinai after Hamas dislodged them from Gaza in early 2010. These Gazan cadres linked together with established local networks on the peninsula. The influx of Salafist-jihadists who fled mainland Egypt and aggrieved Bedouin led to a deadly non-state armed group in the Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem, or ABM).[xxx] ABM pursued two strategic aims: first, targeting Israeli military personnel and civilians, and second, avenging Egypt’s crackdowns of 2004-2006.[xxxi] The onset of the Arab Spring brought with it challenges and opportunities at the beginning of 2011. Security forces abandoned posts in the Sinai – Egypt’s periphery – to manage the instability occurring in the Nile Valley region – Egypt’s core. By early February 2011, the government lost control of northern Sinai.[xxxii] The Arab Spring saw a large-scale movement of Salafist-jihadists “both to and through the Sinai,” as militants exploited the ungoverned space to turn the peninsula into both a transit point and destination.[xxxiii]

Muhammad Morsi’s short-lived regime and retired Field Marshal Abdel Fateh el-Sisi’s rise to power each accelerated the Sinai insurgency. Morsi’s lack of engagement in the Sinai created a safe-haven for jihadists to plan attacks on Israel. Following the military coup in July 2013, Sisi’s hard approach to the Sinai insurgency made Egypt the primary target for jihadists.[xxxiv] Fundamentalists in the Sinai called for the establishment of a “war council” in anticipation of repression reaching them after witnessing the massacre of protestors by government forces in Rabaa in August 2013. This shifted ABM’s narrative to focus on Egypt as opposed to Israel. Egypt’s security-centric approach under President Sisi sparked ABM to label itself as the defender of Muslims across all of Egypt – not just the Sinai – from the onslaught of an “army of apostates.”[xxxv] Disengagement and overreaction strengthened ABM with freedom of movement and refocused its targeting strategy within Egypt.

Pledging Bay`a

Significant counterterrorism pressure on ABM leadership throughout 2014 influenced its decision to ultimately join the ISIS franchise. Egyptian security forces killed Tawfiq Mohammad Faraj, one of ABM’s founders, on March 11, 2014. He had been a veteran of the jihad in Iraq and helped establish the group’s Sinai footprint in 2011.[xxxvi] Faraj also accompanied Khalid Mosa’id, the founder of Tawhid wal Jihad, until Mosa’id’s death in 2005 and he played instrumental roles in some of ABM’s most notorious attacks.[xxxvii] The losses of some two dozen mid- and senior-level ABM leaders over the course of 2014 severely degraded the group’s top echelons of al-Qaeda-leaning individuals.

ISIS focused on exploiting seams and gaps within the leadership of several non-state armed groups in the Sinai. Nearly a year before the declaration of his caliphate, al-Baghdadi had offered $10,000 to the head of al-Muhajirun wal-Ansar, a Sinai-based militant group, in exchange for a pledge of allegiance in August 2013.[xxxviii] ISIS sent representatives to develop ties with ABM after the death of its leader, Tawfiq Mohammad Faraj, in March 2014.[xxxix] This highlights a convergence for both entities: ISIS looked for a competent ally and a footprint in the Sinai, while ABM sought strategic direction and a partnership to bolster its capabilities. Thus, financial and organizational incentives influenced the reflagging of ABM to ISIS.

The calculated decision to join ISIS involved several rounds of human contacts. In August 2014, ABM leadership and al-Baghdadi agreed ISIS core would supply ABM with weapons in exchange for dedicated jihadists committed to the caliphate. This included ISIS sending an operative, Musa’d Abu Qatmad, to persuade local jihadists in the Sinai to join the ISIS franchise in September 2014.[xl] Moreover, militants captured in Egypt’s western desert carried three letters from Abu Ahmad al-Libi, a Libyan-based ISIS leader, who offered to provide as many weapons and as much funding necessary to secure Sinai’s jihadist insurgency as a formal affiliate.[xli]

ISIS leaders in Libya and Syria sent operatives to the Sinai to court ABM into joining al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. ISIS members attempted to enter northern Sinai through underground tunnels from the Gaza Strip, presumably to continue al-Baghdadi’s bidding for a Sinai affiliate.[xlii] By October 2014, two ABM envoys even met face-to-face with ISIS leaders in Syria to discuss joining the franchise in exchange for money and weapons.[xliii] One of these envoys, Abu Usama al-Masri, secured the pledge. Al-Masri, a mainland Egyptian who had escaped prison during the Arab Spring, became Sinai Province’s media spokesman and later its leader in August 2016.[xliv] The two-way exchange of liaisons established the necessary lines of communication to formally affiliate.

Egypt’s counterterrorism pressure neutralized ABM’s old guard – the conglomerate of local insurgents, Salafist-jihadists from the early 21st century, and those influenced by the Arab Spring – and presented an opportunity for ISIS to exploit the gaps in leadership. These internal fractures created an opportunity for ABM to either adapt or risk strategic inertia. The attrition of ABM’s leadership and ISIS dispatching envoys from Libya and Syria into Sinai created a dangerous synergy of convenience and ripe conditions for Sinai Province to emerge.

ABM militants did not unanimously agree to reflagging under ISIS’ global network. The decision-making process and consequences of realigning the Sinai insurgency as an ISIS franchise exposed generational and ideological fissures within the group. Junior members wanted to join ISIS and quickly strengthen ABM’s brand in the Sinai, whereas senior members opted to first consult with the Shura council.[xlv] ABM’s al-Qaeda-leaning networks in the Nile Valley broke with the group after it pledged allegiance to Baghdadi and this dealt a blow to the expansion of the group into mainland Egypt.[xlvi] One of the most notorious high-ranking militants to object was Hisham ‘Ali al-Ashmawy Mussad Ibrahim, a former member of Egypt’s Saiqa (Thunderbolt) special forces unit who provided training to ABM but defected after it became an ISIS franchise.[xlvii] Moreover, competing factions within ABM repeatedly issued pledges to Baghdadi followed by counter-statements to refute these claims. This revealed some members favored the harsh and millenarian approach of ISIS, while others maintained al-Qaeda’s long game to be the most effective way forward.

Consequences on the Battlefield

Both the formal launch of Sinai Province and Egypt’s relentless counterinsurgency campaign cemented ISIS’ presence on the peninsula. Much like its parent organization in Iraq and Syria, Sinai Province’s approach oscillates between portraying itself as the only defender against a tyrannical government and compelling the local tribes into subjugation through violence. The insurgents follow ISIS’ global narrative of baqiya wa tatamadad, or remaining and expanding, through a defensive military strategy of endurance and an offensive military strategy of expansion. It defends by recruiting locally; controlling the population in a totalitarian nature; and blinding its adversaries by executing informants, collaborators, opponents, and spies. Together with an offensive strategy of urban terrorism and guerrilla warfare, Sinai Province aims to break the will of its adversary through attrition and fear since it can neither defeat it conventionally nor unconventionally.[xlviii]

Operational statistics released by Sinai Province for its first and second years of operation reveal a notable adaptation in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Between November 2014 and November 2015, over a quarter of Sinai Province’s attacks relied on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and one-third incorporated close-quarter assassination tactics. Its most lethal tactic involved complex guerrilla operations led by one or more suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) – a hallmark perfected by ISIS core.[xlix] Between November 2015 and November 2016, however, marked a 19 percent jump in IEDs, a tenfold increase in SVBIEDs, and a 19 percent decrease in close-quarter assassinations.[l] The decrease correlates with the effect subjugation has on the local population. The undermining of Egyptian and Israeli intelligence networks in Sinai deterred and neutralized human intelligence assets.[li]

Sinai Province’s battlefield successes have also resulted in closer coordination between the Egyptian and Israeli militaries. Since late 2015, the Israeli Air Force has conducted more than 100 airstrikes within the Sinai Peninsula in a covert air campaign using drones, helicopters, and jets without its insignia. Their operations shifted Sinai Province’s tactics away from high-profile terrorist attacks and capturing urban centers to mass-casualty attacks on soft targets.[lii] This included an uptick in targeting Coptic Christian churches and Sufi mosques, such as the bombing of a Sufi mosque in Northern Sinai which left over 300 dead in November 2017 – the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history.[liii] Coordination between the two countries to degrade Sinai Province’s capabilities has aided Egypt’s tactical successes and increased the stability of Israel’s borders, although it has applied the non-state armed group’s capabilities through other means.

Strategy-Policy Mismatch Fuels Sinai Province

Egypt’s counterinsurgency strategies fuelled the grievances pushing and pulling individuals to support ABM and Sinai Province. Its approach is built around repression, informants, and propaganda (RIP). Its tactics include torture, destruction of property, indiscriminate shelling, and extrajudicial killings. Blanket approaches and a culturally high tolerance for collateral damage drive and reinforce Sinai Province’s propaganda of locals in the Sinai needing protection from a tyrannical outside force.[liv] President Sisi’s state of emergency, curfew, travel restrictions, and heavy-handed scorched-earth policies in the Sinai paradoxically create an ideal environment for Sinai Province to thrive.[lv] The government’s indiscriminate strategies undermine the policy objectives of a peaceful Sinai Province without the threat from VEOs. Its brute force to subjugate and compel the population in the Sinai is not dissimilar from Sinai Province, however locals tacitly or actively support the militants because Cairo is perceived as common enemy needing to be defended from. This is compounded with ISIS’ salient narrative, lethality, and material support to the insurgency.

The case study of ABM’s strategic alliance with ISIS highlights the effects of internal dynamics in the group’s decision-making process. It is an oversimplification to only attribute ABM’s affiliation to ISIS as an adaptation to Egyptian counterterrorism pressure; the killing of mid- and senior-level ABM leadership in rapid succession occurred in parallel with ISIS deploying human assets to secure a footprint in the Sinai Peninsula. Militants calculated that ABM could leverage the weight of ISIS’ brand, together with material incentives ISIS’ senior leadership, to achieve degrees of authority and notoriety not previously obtained by its predecessors. The Egyptian government’s eradicationist policies are unlikely to change while cleavages between local Bedouins and mainland Egyptians grow deeper. The appeal to reflag under ISIS is rooted in Sinai Province exploiting local grievances to reassert the necessity of its presence and unify its subjects where even al-Qaeda had no formal franchise.

Islamic State – West Africa Province (Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiya)


Figure 4: Nigeria and Surrounding Areas[lvi]

Boko Haram operates in an area of Nigeria rich in the history of ruling under a caliphate and of the consequences of Western colonization. Known locally as Jamaat Ahl as-Sunnah Lid dawa wa al-Jihad (Sunni Group for Proselytization and Jihad, or JAS), the group’s leaders glorify the golden age under which sharia law governed over its constituents. They view the influence of Western, secular, and liberal thoughts to be impure in a traditional Muslim society. Nearly a decade of unrest in northeastern Nigeria has left over 20,000 dead and thousands of others injured. Among Boko Haram’s most notable attacks include a car bomb at the United Nations compound in Abuja on August 26, 2011; the kidnapping of 276 teenage girls from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014; a multi-day raid and seizure of the town of Baga, resulting in the capture of a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) base and some 2,000 killed on January 3, 2015; and two female suicide bombers killing 58 people at a refugee camp in February 2016.[lvii]

Following a split within the group in August 2016, Boko Haram and ISIS’ West Africa Province have remained distinct entities. West Africa Province is currently based in northeast Nigeria along the Lake Chad basin, with occasional operational spill over into Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. It aims to replace the government in Abuja with an Islamic state through ISIS’ strict interpretation of Sharia. The U.S. assesses West Africa Province to have approximately 3,500 militants under Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Boko Haram to have 1,500 militants under Abubakr Shekau.[lviii] The Boko Haram faction retreated to its base in the Sambisa Forest, while West Africa Province continued its operations along the northern border areas. These are the same areas each faction operated in while under the same banner, highlighting their coexistence with one another was not much more than surface-level.[lix] The operational reach of Boko Haram could not extend past the Kanuri strongholds in the region as Shekau faced a looser control in the presence of non-Kanuri majority areas.[lx]

On July 30, 2015, the Nigerian military reorganized the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to counter Boko Haram and other irregular threats in the Lake Chad basin after struggling to contain the insurgency and integrate regional operations. The combined operations of Benin, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria hold a mandate to “eliminate Boko Haram in order to create a safe and secure environment and facilitate the stabilization in the areas affected by the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, by using all the necessary means within its capacity.”[lxi] However, systemic problems plague its capabilities and capacity. MNJTF struggles with human rights abuses and burden-sharing despite tactical successes in dislodging Boko Haram and West Africa Province elements. These undermine public trust and confidence in the state and fuel the insurgents’ grievances. In addition, MNJTF partners are reluctant to commit further resources to “a Nigeria problem” as it contains Boko Haram and West Africa Province to northeastern Nigeria.[lxii]


The ethnic composition of the group influences its goals, areas of operations, and power projection. Boko Haram’s members are primarily Kanuri and it seeks the establishment of a caliphate in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, as well as in western Chad, northwestern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger. These are the regions of the former Kanuri-led Kanem-Borno Empire of 700-1900.[lxiii] It also views the Fulani- and Hausa-led Sokoto Caliphate of Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio in northwestern Nigeria to be a powerful symbol, when he mobilized his Fulani ethnic group with a jihad in 1804 to depose of apostate rulers. The Sokoto Caliphate lasted one hundred years until British colonization imposed a Westphalian State-based system in Nigeria.[lxiv] These Muslim-led governance structures, compounded with the subsequent perils of colonization and Western influence, continue to influence Boko Haram’s quest for a caliphate.

Boko Haram incorporates these two governance structures and manipulates history to reintroduce sharia to northern Nigeria. Its expansion resonates with ethnic Kanuri individuals and constrains Boko Haram to the geographic boundaries of the Kanem-Borno Empire, as shown in Figure 2. Despite the group’s veneration of dan Fodio, however, areas of the Sokoto Caliphate remain largely untouched by Boko Haram’s influence. The Sokoto Caliphate’s reach extended into the Kanem-Borno Empire but never controlled Borno State, Boko Haram’s base of operations. Thus, Boko Haram uses dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate to justify and model its own approach to a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, yet Boko Haram’s own leaders are of a different ethnic group and operate on the other side of the country.[lxv] This paradox highlights the ethnic, operational, and historical constraints to Boko Haram’s objectives.

Mohammad Yusuf, an ethnic Kanuri and Islamic scholar, discovered Salafism in northwestern Nigerian cities formerly under the control of the Sokoto Caliphate. Yusuf’s radical ideals, however, damaged his relationships with his mentors and moved to northeastern Nigeria after being labeled as too extreme.[lxvi] His goal to recreate Islamic rule did not resonate in the epicenter of the Sokoto Caliphate’s historical control, although Yusuf saw this as a successful model. Yusuf’s relocation to Borno State identifies how he assessed a return to the ethnic Kanuri stronghold would more effectively recruit and mobilize individuals based on ethnic kinship in the former areas of the Kanem-Borno Empire.

In 2002, Mohammed Yusuf established Boko Haram in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and made its goal to establish an Islamic state. He supported Ali Modu Sheriff as governor of Borno State in exchange for the implementation of sharia and legitimate political representation of Boko Haram in the local administration.[lxvii] Yusuf attempted to navigate the political system to secure the objectives of Boko Haram: tackling corruption, poor governance, nepotism, and poverty in Nigeria. He simultaneously created alternative forms of economic opportunities and a sense of community to empower his fellow Kanuri followers in Borno State. Micro-financing programs and zakat, or charitable donations, funded Yusuf’s movement and provided economic incentives where the government had little or no capacity to do so.[lxviii] These programs exploited the vacuum created by the Nigerian government’s lack of power projection in the northeast.

The Nigerian military’s poor human rights record and corruption have plagued its effectiveness both before and during the Boko Haram insurgency. After 35 years of military dictatorship ended in 1999, the profession of arms still struggles with corruption, graft, and a lack of competency to this day. Serious abuses against civilians in the 1990s and early 2000s have only engrained this.[lxix] Human rights abuses are even more flagrant during counter-Boko Haram operations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture, such as the shooting of more than 600 detainees at the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri in March 2014.[lxx] Moreover, poor conditions in those overcrowded cells led to the deaths of 340 detainees.[lxxi] Endemic signs of corruption include Nigeria’s former Chief of Defence Staff charged with graft,[lxxii] military officers selling arms to Boko Haram,[lxxiii] and Nigeria’s vice president admitting around $15 billion – nearly half of the country’s foreign currency reserves – were stolen in fraudulent arms procurement contracts.[lxxiv]


Local politicians, including Borno State’s new governor, Sheriff, failed to deliver on their promises to Yusuf. He resorted to jihad to achieve Boko Haram’s political objectives of reintroducing sharia based on dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate. This accelerated Boko Haram’s pursuit of this objective and increased the pressure from the Nigerian state. Yusuf turned against local politicians and reignited his push to implement of an Islamic state to overcome corruption and oppression. His inflammatory rhetoric painted Christians, the Nigerian government, and the West as the source of disenfranchisement, saying “[t]he government of Nigeria has not been built to do justice. … It has been built to attack Islam and kill Muslims.”[lxxv] In 2009, Nigerian police officers arrested and extrajudicially executed Yusuf – which had been recorded on cell phones and leaked online – during clashes with security forces. This further radicalized his followers and labelled Yusuf as a martyr in Boko Haram’s struggle to recreate a caliphate.[lxxvi]

Abubakar Shekau assumed leadership of Boko Haram and expedited Yusuf’s agenda through unprecedented levels of violence. One year after Yusuf’s death, in July 2010, Shekau declared a jihad against the Nigerian government and the U.S. The group launched its first attack two months later to free over 700 inmates from a central prison in Bauchi.[lxxvii] This initiated a prolonged campaign against suspected informants, religious rivals, and public areas which showcased Western influence, such as bars.[lxxviii] For Shekau, jihad was the only option to secure Boko Haram’s objectives where the political process had failed. Boko Haram also began issuing propaganda in Hausa in 2010 for their messages to be understood throughout Nigeria, despite its target recruitment pool spoke Kanuri.[lxxix] In the footsteps his predecessor, Shekau argued, “Followers of Western education have usurped our hearts with a philosophy and method of thinking that is contrary to the demands of Allah. … They have imposed upon us laws that are not of Allah. Have you understood the trap they have set for us?”[lxxx]

Shekau contacted al-Qaeda’s senior leadership not long after he became Yusuf’s successor. In a letter retrieved from UBL’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Shekau proclaimed that “now what we have left is to learn about the system of [al-Qaeda] and how it is organized. … We want to be under one banner and there must be a vision to begin with, because our religion is a religion of vision and knowledge.”[lxxxi] However, the poor results of Yusuf’s uprising in 2009 and the unfamiliarity with Shekau could have created skepticism within al-Qaeda core.[lxxxii] This is the first and only time Shekau willingly sought to subordinate himself to a parent organization. After having received no response, Shekau continued to consolidate authority without regard for being under the command of another individual.

Ansaru plays a key role in driving Boko Haram towards ISIS. The group splintered from Shekau in 2011 because of his violence against Muslims, “deviant” ideology, and heavy-handed rule. French counterterrorism pressure in Mali began to sever networks between Ansaru and AQIM. The targeting of couriers between AQIM, its adherents, and Boko Haram influenced Ansaru to reconsider distancing from Shekau since it had become isolated from its primary benefactor. This decision based on survival, together with Shekau’s own retribution against them, drove Ansaru back into Boko Haram’s orbit between November 2012 and February 2013. Despite objections of Shekau’s unsustainable leadership, this gave Ansaru an opportunity to integrate the new TTPs it learned from AQIM – kidnappings and suicide bombings – to strengthen Boko Haram’s conquest of territory.[lxxxiii]

On August 14, 2014, Shekau declared a caliphate, operationalizing Yusuf’s plan for an Islamic state in the region. Reaching a major achievement of the Islamist insurgency in northeast Nigeria, Shekau laid out his objectives bluntly: “We do not have any agenda other than working to establish an Islamic kingdom like during the time of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) no matter what will happen to us. … [northeastern Nigeria is] part of an Islamic State that has nothing to do with Nigeria anymore.”[lxxxiv] His actions and aspirations in aligned with al-Baghdadi’s global caliphate and the Kanuris’ longing for an Islamic state in their ethnic homelands. Thus, West Africa Province provided a means to an end for each party. ISIS will maintain a presence and its narrative will be salient in northeastern Nigeria so long as the goals of a caliphate in Kanuri can be maintained through ISIS affiliation.[lxxxv]

Pledging Bay`a

Boko Haram and ISIS leaders needed to establish a direct connection with one another for ISIS to formally incorporate the group in its global network. Boko Haram looked northward to jihadists in North Africa, with whom it had historical operational connections. Africa Media, a pro-ISIS media outlet, facilitated communications between ISIS and Boko Haram media operatives. A member of both Africa Media and Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia collaborated with Boko Haram to rejuvenate its propaganda operations.[lxxxvi] More importantly, however, former members of Boko Haram connected with former AQIM members who defected to ISIS, establishing a formal line of communication between ISIS core and leaders in Nigeria.[lxxxvii]

Convergent interests between ISIS core and Boko Haram drove their partnership. It saw Boko Haram’s control over physical territory as reinforcing the organization’s narrative of remaining and expanding. The Nigerian jihadists had more tamkin (on-the-ground authority) than any other prospective province for ISIS, making its expansion through violence resonate with the strategy of leaders in Iraq and Syria.[lxxxviii] This placed an enormous amount of risk and reward in branching out ISIS’ operations to West Africa, a remote area far from the Levant. Boko Haram intended to use the Sokoto Caliphate as a framework for its own hybrid of a caliphate project tailored to ethnic Kanuris, which departs from ISIS rallying the ummah under one banner. However, Shekau’s declaration of his own caliphate and an increased sophistication in Boko Haram’s TTPs provided ISIS with a candidate resembling its perceived invincibility, ability to conquer and hold territory, and international notoriety.

Internal dynamics and fractures within Boko Haram influenced its decision to align itself with ISIS at a pivotal moment in the group’s history. Mamman Nur, a senior leader and former Ansaru-aligned militant, “compelled” Shekau to make the pledge to ISIS – despite his recognition of al-Baghdadi as a legitimate caliph – because Shekau “knew if he did not go ahead pledging loyalty we would split from him and pledge our loyalty. He feared that we would split, so that was the reason he pledged loyalty.”[lxxxix] While this was primarily an ideologically-driven merger with ISIS, Shekau’s peers pressured him to abdicate his unconstrained leadership in exchange for organizational coherence. Thus, ideology and intra-organizational competition influenced Boko Haram to affiliate with ISIS.

ISIS received bay`a from the “Nigerian mujahideen” in November 2014. This comes only three months after Shekau declared his own caliphate and in the same month ISIS announced its first round of affiliates.[xc] Al-Baghdadi formally accepted the group’s pledge in March 2015 and this rebranded Boko Haram into West Africa Province. The four-month-long gap between receipt and acceptance of bay`a from an established group is noteworthy. ISIS core proceeded with caution – much like al-Qaeda core had several years prior – despite Boko Haram’s lethality, capability to conquer and hold territory, and declaration of its own caliphate. It needed to establish a formal line of communication with Boko Haram as the French-led counterterrorism operation in the Sahel had disrupted nodes of facilitators between African jihadist entities. Moreover, ISIS needed to vet and secure the trust of Shekau – an erratic leader of a fractured organization – who would serve as the group’s public image in West Africa.

Faced with the threat of fracturing from the rest of Boko Haram’s senior leadership, Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS to avoid an organizational split. Shekau had been willing to sacrifice full control over Boko Haram – despite being in the international limelight and fixated on authoritarianism – because he wanted to prevent the repetition of the split with Ansaru in 2011-2012.[xci] Thus, operational, organizational, and ideological factors drove the affiliation between Boko Haram and ISIS core. Shekau’s erratic leadership and excessive violence exposed organizational fractures which he exploited, and which were ultimately used against him. His own motivations placed group survival and coherence over ideology, whereas ideological reasons motivated the remainder of his cohort.

Fractures Unhealed

The formal affiliation with ISIS exacerbated tensions within West Africa Province. From its inception, senior leaders worried for their personal safety due to Shekau’s erratic behavior and his lack of strategic, operational, or tactical prowess. Khalid al-Barnawi, then-leader of Ansaru, approached jihadist cooperation in pragmatic terms, driven more by operations than ideology. He placed aside his reservations with Shekau’s leadership to collaborate and improve Boko Haram’s operations while Ansaru’s top leadership prioritized operational necessity and personal survival.[xcii]

Former Ansaru and Ansaru-aligned militants Khalid al-Barnawi, Abu Fatima, Mamman Nur, and Habib Yusuf effectively cut off Shekau’s communications from ISIS core to incubate the new province’s reputation from being tarnished.[xciii] This effectively placed Khalid al-Barnawi at the head of operations, whereas Shekau remained Boko Haram’s figurehead. This led to Shekau’s expulsion as wali, or governor, to preserve West Africa Province, ensure the safety of senior leadership, and maintain coherence as ISIS’ newest affiliate. In early August 2016, these same individuals split from Shekau in a situation like the Boko Haram – Ansaru split several years earlier.

Habib Yusuf – the son of Mohammad Yusuf – became wali of West Africa Province in August 2016. Now known as Abu Musab al-Barnawi, his group remained distinct from Shekau’s new Boko Haram faction. The al-Barnawi faction believed Shekau’s ignoring of civilian casualties would weaken popular support, embolden civilian militias, and contradict Islamic scriptures on the killing of Muslim civilians.[xciv] Barnawi addressed Shekau’s erratic behaviour, saying that ISIS “has forbidden targeting the mass of people who belong to Islam, and it is innocent of that action. Everyone who does this, does it for himself, not in the name of the Caliphate.”[xcv] After shifting West Africa  Province’s targeting to the Nigerian state and Christians, the Shekau-Barnawi split revealed the seams and gaps on personality, theology, and the strategic disagreement on targeting Muslim civilians.[xcvi] The split was most evident in West Africa Province’s kidnapping of over one hundred schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria.[xcvii] ISIS senior leadership responded that the abduction “cast the group in a bad light” and ordered their immediate release, a departure from Shekau holding the hundreds of girls from Chibok for several years.[xcviii]

Boko Haram’s interest to affiliate differed between AQIM and ISIS. In 2009, AQIM’s material incentives attracted Boko Haram, whereas the group experienced a more ideological pull from ISIS in 2014. Primary source documents reveal ideology over material resources fuelled Boko Haram’s reasons for joining ISIS, as the reintegrated Ansaru members believed it was the group’s obligation to show loyalty to the Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Thus, while the patterns of factions and realignment rested upon overtones of maintaining organizational unity, ideology remained the prominent driver once the former Ansaru members reintegrated with Shekau.[xcix]

Comparative Analysis

The Egyptian government’s response to the Sinai insurgency has been much more of a driver of the conflict than has Nigeria’s response to the insurgency in the northeast. Cairo continues to pursue its RIP policy which undermines the strategic objectives of pacifying the region and defeating Sinai Province. This results in a strategy-policy mismatch and fuels the same instability it attempts to defeat. Only with a harmony of the Egyptian government’s strategies and policies can it produce actionable results in the region. The Nigerian government does not create the same level of instability as does Egypt. Having a lack of presence in the northeast and a history of human rights abuses fuels the Islamists in Borno State, albeit to a lesser degree than does Egypt in the Sinai. The success of West Africa Province is more a resultant of former Ansaru-aligned militants assuming senior leadership positions after being trained by AQIM, whereas Sinai Province can leverage success due to Cairo’s mismanagement of counterinsurgency campaigns.

Both ABM and Boko Haram held the most tamkin (on-the-ground authority) of ISIS’ affiliates, yet the former could harmonize its own actions more effectively with the strategic direction of ISIS. Boko Haram’s fractured senior leadership undermined what legitimacy its tamkin provided them. Moreover, its expansion of attacks across the borders into Chad, Niger, and Cameroon were more a retribution for and product of counterterrorism pressure than for purposes to conquer and seize territory. ABM’s tamkin rested in its coercion of the Bedouin population and its labelling as the only defender for locals and all Muslims of Egypt. This authoritarian approach and a reframing of its narrative made ABM more successful than Boko Haram and resulted in a stronger connection with ISIS core at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

Sinai Province’s convergent interests and stronger bonds to ISIS core made it the more successful entity out of the two wilayats. West Africa Province and Sinai Province are on opposite sides of the spectrum in their alignment and strength of bonds with ISIS core, as depicted in Figure 5. West Africa Province still maintains more divergent interests of establishing a caliphate in Kanuri strongholds as opposed to Sinai Province’s interests of exploiting Bedouin grievances to secure territory. Moreover, ISIS deploying operatives into Egypt and establishing liaisons with ABM represent a stronger bond between ISIS core and Sinai Province, whereas Boko Haram had trouble securing a line of communication with ISIS senior leadership.


Figure 5: Interests and Bonds of ISIS Affiliates with ISIS Core as of June 2016[c]

Sinai Province adapted more effectively to internal dynamics and leadership issues. Egypt’s counterterrorism pressure decimated ABM’s leadership at a time when ISIS placed a premium on securing an official presence in the Sinai Peninsula. This lack of leadership and strategic direction provided ISIS with the opportunity to mold the Sinai insurgency into its global framework. This differs from the underlying fractures within Boko Haram as their splits continued to cycle through and define Boko Haram’s history. Shekau’s megalomania and destructive actions distanced his senior associates and ultimately led to the fracturing his Boko Haram faction from West Africa Province. Less established connections with ISIS core led to a weaker bond and recovery. These fissures paradoxically led West Africa Province to be worse-off in its quest for a caliphate, despite it having a more ideological pull to ISIS than it did to al-Qaeda. ISIS leadership – much like al-Qaeda’s – were skeptical of Shekau’s leadership and intentions, as opposed to the clean slate in ABM’s leadership offered to ISIS.

Geographic proximity and history are key in understanding the effectiveness and integration of each case study into ISIS core. Sinai Province operates much closer to the epicenter of medieval caliphates, while West Africa Province operates exclusively in and around the areas of the former Sokoto Caliphate. West Africa Province and Boko Haram also target ethnic Kanuris and struggle to mobilize recruits and hold territory outside of a Kanuri majority. Ethnicity constrains ISIS’ expansion in Nigeria whereas this is not the case in the Sinai Peninsula.

Like how ISIS transcended Sunni Arab identity to target the ummah outside of Sunnis in Iraq, West Africa Province must refocus itself as a movement that is not just for the Kanuri people.[ci] Sinai Province, on the other hand, is strategically located that can be infiltrated from tunnels through Gaza or other smuggling routes from mainland Egypt. The ungoverned spaces are exploited both as transit and destination points for jihadists across the Middle East and North Africa. This presents an interesting discovery when comparing Sinai Province and West Africa Province. The former had much more of a two-way exchange with ISIS operatives, while the latter struggled to establish a connection and travelled into North Africa to rebuild its courier networks. As depicted in Figure 6, Sinai Province maintains crossover with ISIS core while West Africa Province is separate and is fraught with divided loyalties from Boko Haram.


Figure 6: Fractures in al-Qaeda and ISIS Affiliates as of September 2016[cii]

The two case studies in this report reveal why local VEOs reflag under the ISIS brand. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS due to internal competition, ideology, and Shekau’s fear of another split within his group in Nigeria. His senior associates who had reintegrated from the Ansaru faction were driven by ideology and operational concerns to pledge allegiance to ISIS. Despite Shekau’s reluctance to become subordinate to an external entity or share power with his peers, he felt “compelled” to reflag to preserve organizational coherence. ABM, on the other hand, pledged allegiance to ISIS for reasons pertaining to internal dynamics, albeit of a different circumstance. The loss of mid- and senior-level leadership in rapid succession at the hands of Egyptian counterterrorism pressure gave ISIS a convenient opportunity to exploit the group’s lack of direction. Thus, reflagging strengthened ABM but fractured Boko Haram due to cohesion and leadership.


With risk being a function of threat, vulnerability, and consequence, these case studies reveal ABM and Boko Haram’s affiliation with ISIS pose a high risk as the Global Coalition seek to degrade, disrupt, and dismantle the capabilities of affiliates. The increased capabilities of these groups following bay`a and their steadfast intent to implement ISIS’ millenarian agenda mark a high threat level. The un- and under-governed territories in the Sinai and northeastern Nigeria and each governments’ respective counterterrorism policies are significant vulnerabilities that are exploited by each group. Moreover, the consequences of successful affiliation are perceived invincibility, ability to conquer and hold territory, and international notoriety. Taken in sum, this assesses with confidence that Sinai Province and West Africa Province present a high risk to host-nation and Western interests.

Significant pressure from the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has reclaimed all territory in Iraq and 98 percent of territory in Syria.[ciii] The fall of Mosul and Raqqa give rise to a new era in the histories of ISIS and its affiliates. ISIS transformed from concentrating on territorial expansion and control to a decentralized and networked organization. This flat hierarchy results in less command and control from ISIS core over its affiliates.[civ] The loss of its physical caliphate and a reduction in strategic direction now leaves ISIS’ robust tentacles to increase their tamkin on their own. This new breed of decentralized franchising requires a proficient understanding among analysts of a parent organization’s expansion model, the internal dynamics of local VEOs, and the preconditions and accelerants of their operating environments. Only then can the tailored application of instruments of national power exploit affiliate organizations’ vulnerabilities and, by extension, discredit the legitimacy of a parent organization seeking to remain and expand.


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End Notes

[i] SOCOM-2012-00000016, an undated letter from Usama bin Laden addressed to Abu Basir [Nasir al-Wuhayshi],, 1.

[ii] Islamic State, “Remaining and Expanding,” Dabiq 5, Al-Hayat Media Center, November 2014,, 22-33.

[iii] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Nathaniel Barr, and Bridget Moreng, “The Islamic State’s Global Propaganda Strategy,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, March 2016,, 44.

[iv] Harleen Gambhir, “Middle East Security Report 28: ISIS’s Global Strategy: A Wargame,” Institute for the Study of War, July 2015,, 10-12.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Islamic State, Dabiq 5, 24.

[vii] Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-‘Ubaydi, “Pledging Bay’a: A Benefit or Burden to the Islamic State?” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 3 (March 2015),

[viii] Assaf Moghadam, “Terrorist Affiliations in Context: A Typology of Terrorist Inter-Group Cooperation,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 3 (March 2015),

[ix] Barak Mendelsohn, The al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and Its Consequences (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 60.

[x] Ibid., 31.

[xi] Ibid., 51.

[xii] Ibid., 38.

[xiii] National Counterterrorism Center, “Counterterrorism 2016 Calendar,” August 29, 2015,, 7.

[xiv] Karen Leigh, Jason French, and Jovi Juan, “Islamic State and Its Affiliates,” Wall Street Journal,

[xv] Gartenstein-Ross et. al, “The Islamic State’s Global Propaganda Strategy,” 44.

[xvi] Jeremy M. Sharp, Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, CRS Report No. RL33003 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2017),, 8.

[xvii] U.S. Department of State, “ISIL Sinai Province,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, Chapter 6: Foreign Terrorist Organizations (Washington, DC: 2017),

[xviii] Mokhtar Awad, “The Islamic State’s Pyramid Scheme: Egyptian Expansion and the Giza Governorate Cell,” CTC Sentinel 9, no. 4 (April 2016),

[xix] Kairat Umarov, “Letter dated 17 January 2018 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011), and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), al-Qaeda and associated individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, January 26, 2018,, 4.

[xx] Yasmin Faruki, Jenna Gowell, and Laura Hoffman, “ISIS’s Wilayat Sinai Launches Largest Offensive in Sheikh Zuweid,” Institute for the Study of War, July 2, 2015,

[xxi] Kareem Fahim, “Egypt ISIS Affiliate Claims Destruction of Naval Vessel,” New York Times, July 16, 2015,

[xxii] Bill Roggio, “Islamic State releases photograph of bomb that brought down Russian airliner,” Long War Journal, November 18, 2015,

[xxiii] Omar Ashour, “Sinai’s Insurgency: Implications of Enhanced Guerilla Warfare,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (2017): 2,

[xxiv] Lyndall Herman, "Sisi, the Sinai and Salafis: Instability in a Power Vacuum," Middle East Policy 23, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 95-107,

[xxv] Ibid., 102.

[xxvi] Ashour, 3.

[xxvii] “Tawhid wal-Jihad,” The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy,

[xxviii] Ashour, 3.

[xxix] Herman, 98.

[xxx] Michael Horton, “Crossing the Canal: Why Egypt Faces a Creeping Insurgency,” CTC Sentinel 10, no. 6 (June / July 2017),

[xxxi] Ashour, 4.

[xxxii] Horton, “Crossing the Canal.”

[xxxiii] Herman, 103.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ashour, 4.

[xxxvi] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “ISIL’s International Expansion: What Does Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s Oath of Allegiance Mean?” War on the Rocks, February 25, 2015,

[xxxvii] David Barnett, “Ansar Jerusalem confirms deaths of 2 members, including founder,” Long War Journal, March 16, 2014,

[xxxviii] Gartenstein-Ross et. al, 66.

[xxxix] Malcolm Nance, Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, Why They Fight, and What They Believe (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), 84.

[xl] “إخوان الكويت التقوا الجهادي أبو أيوب لدعم داعش [The brothers of Kuwait met the jihadist Abu Ayyub to support Da’esh,” Al-Shahed, September 4, 2014,

[xli] Gartenstein-Ross et. al, 64.

[xlii] Randa el-Banna, “Alleged ISIL members arrested in Sinai Friday,” Cairo Post, June 29, 2014,

[xliii] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Militant Group in Egypt Vows Loyalty to ISIS,” New York Times, November 10, 2014,

[xliv] U.S. Department of State, “State Department Terrorist Designations of Hasem Safieddine and Muhammad al-Isawi,” Office of the Spokesperson, May 19, 2017,

[xlv] Nance, Defeating ISIS, 86.

[xlvi] Kirkpatrick, “Militant Group in Egypt Vows Loyalty to ISIS.”

[xlvii] Andrew McGregor, “Egypt Looks for Security Answers as Its War on Terrorism Moves to the Desert Oases,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 16, no. 1 (2018):

[xlviii] Ashour, 12.

[xlix] Islamic State, “The Annual Harvest of Military Operations for the Year 1436 [in Arabic],” Media Office of Sinai Province, November 12, 2015.

[l] Islamic State, “The Annual Harvest of Military Operations for the Year 1437 [in Arabic],” Media Office of Sinai Province, November 10, 2016.

[li] Retired Major-General in the Egyptian Military Intelligence, Interview conducted by Omar Ashour, November 6, 2016.

[lii] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Secret Alliance: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes in Egypt, With Cairo’s O.K.,” New York Times, February 3, 2018,

[liii] Declan Walsh and Nour Youssef, “Militants Kill 305 at Sufi Mosque in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack,” New York Times, November 24, 2017,

[liv] Ashour, 7.

[lv] Michael Horton, “Crossing the Canal.”

[lvi] Leigh, et. al, “Islamic State and Its Affiliates.”

[lvii] “Boko Haram Fast Facts,” CNN, April 2, 2018,

[lviii] Ryan Browne, “US Warns of Growing African Terror Threat,” CNN, April 19, 2018,

[lix] Jacob Zenn, “The al-Qaeda Accelerant in Boko Haram’s Rise,” U.S. Naval War College, Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (Newport, RI: 2017), 93.

[lx] Zacharias P. Pieri and Jacob Zenn, “The Boko Haram Paradox: Ethnicity, Religion, and Historical Memory in Pursuit of the Caliphate,” in Understanding Boko Haram: Terrorism and Insurgency in Africa, eds. James J. Hentz and Hussein Solomon (Routledge: New York, 2017), 56.

[lxi] “Multinational Joint Task Force,”

[lxii] U.S. Military Operations in Africa: Hearing Before the House Armed Services Committee, 115th Cong. 17-18 (March 8, 2018) (statement of General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander, U.S. Africa Command),

[lxiii] Pieri and Zenn, “The Boko Haram Paradox,” 42.

[lxiv] Ibid., 57.

[lxv] Ibid., 43.

[lxvi] Ibid., 47.

[lxvii] Ibid., 46.

[lxviii] Ibid., 47.

[lxix] International Crisis Group, “Nigeria: The Challenge of Military Reform,” Report 237, June 6, 2016,

[lxx] Amnesty International, “Stars on Their Shoulders. Blood on Their Hands. War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military,” June 3, 2015,, 13.

[lxxi] Amnesty International, “Report 2017/18: The State of the World’s Human Rights,” February 2018,

[lxxii] “Nigeria’s Former Defence Chief Charged With Graft,” News24, March 7, 2016,

[lxxiii] “Nigerian Military: Some Officers Selling Arms to Boko Haram,” Voice of America / Associated Press, September 4, 2016,

[lxxiv] “Nigeria’s vice president says $15 bln stolen in arms procurement fraud,” Reuters, May 2, 2016,

[lxxv] Muhammad Yusuf, Buɗaɗɗiyar wasiƙa zuwa ga gwamnatin Tarayyar Najeriya [Open letter to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria], June 12, 2009, available at:

[lxxvi] Pieri and Zenn, 48-49.

[lxxvii] Adam Nossiter, “Prison Raid in Nigeria Releases Hundreds,” New York Times, September 9, 2010,

[lxxviii] Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2018), 155.

[lxxix] Pieri and Zenn, 55.

[lxxx] A link to the original sermon as posted on YouTube may be found here, posted October 28, 2011,

[lxxxi] Abubakar Shekau, “Praise Be to God the Lord of All Worlds,” Bin Laden’s Bookshelf, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, March 1, 2016,, 2.

[lxxxii] Thurston, 176.

[lxxxiii] Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Conquest for the Caliphate: How al-Qaeda Helped Islamic State Acquire Territory,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, February 20, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2018.1442141, 11.

[lxxxiv] This statement was made by Abu Qaqa, Boko Haram’s spokesman at the time, and was originally posted by SaharaReporters. The full text of the Boko Haram statement is available in “Christians, Accept Islam for Peace to Reign – Boko Haram Says,” Nigerian Voice, July 11, 2012,

[lxxxv] Pieri and Zenn, 56-57.

[lxxxvi] Gartenstein-Ross, et. al, 64-65.

[lxxxvii] Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Conquest for the Caliphate,” 2.

[lxxxviii] Zenn, “The al-Qaeda Accelerant in Boko Haram’s Rise,” 83-84.

[lxxxix] Islamic State, Al-Naba’ interview with Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi (August 2016), English translation and annotation available at:

[xc] Islamic State, “Remaining and Expanding,” Dabiq 5, 22-33.

[xci] Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Conquest for the Caliphate,” 23.

[xcii] Ibid., 15.

[xciii] Ibid., 17.

[xciv] Zenn, “The al-Qaeda Accelerant in Boko Haram’s Rise,” 90.

[xcv] Islamic State, “Wali Gharb Ifriqiya: Al-Shaykh Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi,” Al-Naba’ 41 (August 2, 2016), 8-9.

[xcvi] Thurston, 279.

[xcvii] Amy Held, “110 Girls Missing In Latest Suspected Boko Haram Attack, Says Nigerian Government,” NPR, February 25, 2018,

[xcviii] “Boko Haram Gives Reason For Release Of Dapchi Girls, Denies Ceasefire Talks With FG,” SaharaReporters, April 9, 2018,

[xcix] Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Conquest for the Caliphate,” 24.

[c] Clint Watts, “When the Caliphate Crumbles: The Future of the Islamic State’s Affiliates,” War on the Rocks, June 13, 2016,

[ci] Pieri and Zenn, 54.

[cii] Clint Watts, “Two-and-a-Half Years After ISIS’s Rise: Global Jihad Spreads and Morphs,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 27, 2016,

[ciii] Brett McGurk, “Update on the D-ISIS Campaign,” Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Washington, DC: December 21, 2017),

[civ] Umarov, “Letter dated 17 January 2018 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee, 4.

About the Author(s)

Nicholas A. Glavin is a MALD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He previously worked at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Naval War College’s Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (CIWAG). The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent those of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @nickglavin.