Robert Windrem, NBC News, February 18, 2015
Long before ISIS militants beheaded Christians on a Libyan beach last week, Nigeria’s Boko Haram was carrying out similar atrocities 1,500 miles to the south. Now that ISIS is operating in northern Africa, will the Syria-based organization join forces with the continent’s largest Islamist terror group?
Maybe not, say U.S. intelligence officials, and they suggest one obstacle is racism.
“The Arab world is incredibly racist,” explained a U.S. intelligence official. “They don’t see black Africans as equivalent to them.”
ISIS may show “affinity” with Boko Haram, said the official, “but they stop short of allegiance.” Moreover, said the official, while Boko Haram has in the past year released videos to show “affiliation” with groups like ISIS, there’s no evidence of either group sending members to fight with the other. And while Boko Haram has praised ISIS, and shown the ISIS flag in videos, ISIS has not reciprocated.
The groups differ in many ways. Both use social media, but the ISIS campaign is much more sophisticated–using more than 20 languages–and attempts to communicate the Islamic rationale for its operations. Boko Haram posts increasingly slick videos on the web, like one released Tuesday that threatens the leaders of Cameroon, Benin and Chad, but its prime recruiting tool is older and simpler than social media. “Boko Haram,” said one official, “uses fear.”
But even if there is no link beyond shared values between the groups, ISIS may be a role model for Boko Haram, said Michael Sheehan, chairman of the Countering Terrorism Center at West Point. He said he’s “not sure” Boko Haram would’ve “gone the caliphate route” if ISIS hadn’t done so first.