Since the 1960s, Nigeria has seen a rise of domestic and foreign-funded Islamist movements spreading austere narratives of fundamentalist Islam. In addition, jihadists from neighboring Cameroon and Niger have traveled to wage jihad inside Nigeria. Nominal numbers of Nigerian jihadists have left the country as foreign fighters to regions like the Middle East or South Asia.
Boko Haram is an ISIS-aligned jihadist group based in Nigeria, also operating in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The group promotes a Salafist jihadi version of Islam and deems western influence “haram” (forbidden). Boko Haram first attacked government targets in Nigeria in 2010 as part of its strategy for a regional caliphate. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared victory against Boko Haram in December 2015, though the announcement was followed by successive suicide bombings perpetrated by the terror group in the country’s northeast. As of August 2016, Boko Haram is split between militants who follow longtime leader Abubakar Shekau and those who follow ISIS-appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi. (Sources: BBC News, Premium Times, Newsweek, Economist)
Boko Haram is an ISIS-aligned jihadist group based in Nigeria, also operating in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
Recruitment is difficult for Boko Haram since approximately 50 percent of Nigerians are Christian. Christians are unlikely to be attracted to the group’s goal of resuscitating the Kanem-Bornu caliphate that once ruled over modern-day Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. Moreover, Boko Haram’s founder Mohammad Yusuf successfully proselytized within his northern Kanuri tribe, alienating Nigerian Muslims of differing ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Today, Boko Haram’s reputation for mass violence has further alienated Nigerians. As a result, the group has resorted to the conscription of thousands of boys and girls, many of who are trained in boot camps in northeast Nigerian and neighboring Cameroon. The U.S. named Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2014. (Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC News, Bloomberg News, Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization, Wall Street Journal)
Ansaru is a Nigerian-based dissident offshoot of Boko Haram. Its full Arabic name, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, loosely translates to “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” The group is aligned with larger Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Nigerian authorities captured Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, in early April 2016. That September, analyst Jacob Zenn said that Ansaru had been “quiet,” though it was “still active according to Nigerian army reports.”
Ansaru issued a statement officially declaring its existence in 2012. That same year, Ansaru abducted 63-year-old French national Francis Colump following an attack on a well-guarded compound in the northern town of Rimi, about 25km (15 miles) from Katsina city. Since then, Ansaru has executed numerous attacks throughout Nigeria. The U.S. designated the group a terrorist organization in 2014. (Sources: BBC News, CNN, Bloomberg News, BBC News)
Kala Kato is considered a Quranist fundamentalist group, meaning that its members only follow the Quran and not the Hadith (a series of books describing the words and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). According to reports, Kala Kato members have told followers that saying the Islamic prayer Nasilat—and the act of alms-giving, or zakat—is unnecessary. In this respect, Kala Kato is distinct from local Islamist groups as well as international organizations such as al-Qaeda. Members of Kala Kato reportedly proselytize in neighboring countries such as Niger. Kala Kato and Boko Haram have clashed in the past. (Sources: Niger Times, BBC News)
The Izala Movement
Izala is an anti-Sufi, Salafist organization in Nigeria whose members seek to strip Islam of foreign (i.e. Western) ideas and practices. It was established by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in 1978 in the central Nigerian city Jos, but finds its roots in the early 1960s as a movement centered on prominent preacher and scholar Sheikh Abu-bakar Gummi. Gummi was reportedly influenced by the Saudi Islamic doctrine Wahhabism and received material and ideological support from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Nigeria on behalf of Izala. (Source: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization)
IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria)
Founded by Nigerian extremist Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is a Shiite organization reported to be financially and ideologically supported by Iran. According to a 2013 report from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, the IMN is considered “Iran’s proxy” by some Iranian officials and has adopted the Iranian government’s anti-American, anti-western, and anti-Israeli political views. The IMN runs training camps for recruits across northern Nigeria, according to Nigerian intelligence. (Sources: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization, Sahara Reporters, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point)
In July 2014, more than 30 IMN members were killed in clashes with government forces including during the IMN’s yearly Quds procession—an event held to demonstrate IMN’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause. IMB alleges that government forces attacked the group’s members, including three of Zakzaky’s sons—who died in the incident. (Source: Sahara Reporters)
IMN follower Abubakar Mujahid founded the MIR (Movement for the Islamic Revival or Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah, Ja’amutu Tajidmul Islami) in the late 1990s in Kano, Nigeria. The group is known to exploit street violence and organize mass protests. Abubakar Mujahid and IMN founder Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky are reported to be an influential grass roots force capable of convening street demonstrations of up to half of a million people in Kano. Both Zakzaky and Mujahid are reported to have revered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. (Source: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization)
There is little evidence to suggest that Nigerians have left in any meaningful numbers as foreign fighters to the Middle East or any other region rife with Islamist militancy. However, the son of former Nigerian Chief Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais allegedly left Nigeria in early 2015 with his two wives to join ISIS. (Source: 9IJA News)
On March 12, 2015, ISIS accepted Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance. ISIS’s now-deceased spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani encouraged global foreign fighters to fight in West Africa if they could not enter Iraq or Syria.