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Islamic State Propaganda and Operations in Nigeria
On 30 October 2021, all official Islamic State channels, on various platforms and sites, published video number five in the "Makers of Epic Battles" series, this time focusing on Wilayah West Africa. The publication of the "Makers of Epic Battles" video series began in March 2021. The first was the violent video of Wilayah Pakistan (Islamic State Pakistan Province - ISPP ). This was followed in April by the Wilayah Sinai video, in May the third issue focused on Iraq, and, finally, the fourth issue in July 2021 focused on the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) referring to operations in Afghanistan. After three months (unlike the previous ones which were published almost every 30/40 days), the video for Wilayah West Africa was released, referring to Nigeria .
It is important to underline that the video refers to West Africa but deals exclusively with ISWAP, without ever integrating into it the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), a group that is independent both in leadership and operations, but which IS Central places, media-wise and propagandistically, under the acronym "West Africa". Moreover, prior to this video for the “Makers of Epic Battles” series, two other videos had already been published in the current year.
The videos almost all follow the same thread, showing attacks carried out in different ways (sniping, use of rocket launchers, assaults on prisons or barracks, use of IEDs or VBIEDs), the assassination of important personalities, military personnel or spies, renewal of oaths, groups of militants carrying out attacks or preparing for them, and above all trying to show their military capabilities and the number of weapons and means at their disposal. So essentially, they are propaganda videos meant to show their strength, capacity, and presence in the territory in which they operate. In the case of all the videos, images or footage older than the date of publication or material recycled from previous publications were also used, although all of them also showed considerable new elements.
Episode #5 - West Africa
In general, the video mainly covers attacks from ISWAP's spring and summer campaign, showing attacks conducted in Borno and Yobe. As mentioned above, there are parts of videos already used in the past and recycled here as well, but there are also several new elements.
Fig. 1 - The video banner.
The video shows several attacks claimed by ISWAP in the past few months (from March 2021 onwards) in numerous areas such as Damasak, Kamuya, the Damaturu-Biu road , Kanamma, Gajiram, Mallam Fatori, Geidam, and Kawuri. These were all attacks in which ISWAP emerged victorious with little or no losses and great booty.
Fig. 2 - One of ISWAP's assaults.
The parts of the video which most attract the attention of the observer are two. The first shows a boy, perhaps around 10-12 years old, killing two Nigerian soldiers, confirming the presence, already noted in other photos/videos published previously, of child soldiers.
Fig. 3 - The child/boy who executes two Nigerian soldiers in the ISWAP video.
In the second interesting passage, in addition to the fact that heavily armed men appear, there is a long monologue within the video of a fighter with his face covered who, at a certain point in his speech, confirms once again his absolute loyalty to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.
Fig. 4 - A commander (unidentified) gives a long speech and renews his oath to the leader of IS.
Towards the end of the video, ISWAP decides to show some of its weapons, vehicles, and field soldiers in matching uniforms. It also shows weapons captured from the Nigerian army following ambushes. Also shown in the video is the use of armored vehicles (VBIEDs) used to break through the army's defenses. ISWAP thus tries to show that this is not a group of thugs, peasants, or militants with no experience of weapons and warfare but, instead, an organization with skilled and battle-hardened militants, not easy to defeat.
The video ends with images of mujahideen preaching to the people in some areas under their control and with a speech in the background (by an unidentified person, although according to pro-IS channels it is the voice of Sheikh Abu al-Hassan), while parades of ISWAP militants are shown (covering the double objective of showing their strength and scaring the enemies).
ISWAP shows in the video only a few of the attacks conducted in northeast Nigeria. ISWAP's military effort counts 336 confirmed attacks from 1 January 2021 to 27 October 2021 . Obviously, the video is pure propaganda, highlighting the strengths while hiding the weaknesses of the group. The group is certainly stronger after having, in mid-May 2021, stormed the Jama'at Ahl al-Sunna li-d-Da'wa wa-l-Jihad (JAS)/Boko Haram stronghold and killed its leader Abubakar Shekau. ISWAP's central command is subordinate to the IS core group. Initially, ISWAP was led by a single commander called Wali (governor). ISWAP, as of today, is in the process of restructuring with the establishment of four sub-provinces: Sambisa Forest, Alagarno Forest, Tumbuma and Lake Chad Islands, all areas of Borno State in northeast Nigeria, each with their own semi-autonomous leadership, and tactically providing the operational bases for the extension of activities to other parts of the northeast, in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. According to the latest information, the ISWAP Shura Council appointed Sani Shuwaram (45) as the group's new Wali/leader, replacing Aba-Ibrahim who was appointed by the Interim Committee run by Abu-Musab al-Barnawi following a directive from IS Central headquarters. Shuwaram was reportedly sworn in during a brief ceremony in Kurnawa in the Lake Chad Basin in Borno State. Shuwaram would be the fourth ISWAP figure to lead the group, following Mamman Nur, Abu-Musab al-Barnawi, Ba Lwan/Abbah-Gana, and Ba Idrissa. Officially, IS Central has recognized former Wali Abu Milan al-Barnawi, Ba Lawan, and Ba Idrissa.
Fig. 5 - Probable diagram of the ISWAP hierarchy (author's production).
ISWAP is mainly active in the Lake Chad basin and is fighting a vast insurgency against the states of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. ISWAP has already established a strong presence along the Damaturu-Maiduguri Road, and with its presence in the Sambisa Forest, incursions into Maiduguri have become easier and ambushes on roads to the southeast have increased. The presence in Sambisa Forest also allows ISWAP to threaten key towns near the Cameroonian border such as Pulka, Gwoza, and Banki, the area between the mountains and Waza National Park, providing an alternative transit route and strategic depth to extract supplies and recruits and a place to retreat to when the Nigerian army increases pressure.
Daniele Garofalo is a researcher and analyst on Jihadist terrorism and an expert in monitoring Jihadist media channels.
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