Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Are we witnessing the birth of an African Islamic State?

On Monday, 13 soldiers were killed by the Islamic State in northeastern Nigeria. A week ago, just after midnight on Friday morning, a Boko Haram suicide bomber blew up 14 villagers in northern Cameroon. These attacks — passing us by, as they do, in a stream of news and information — are becoming increasingly common in the beleaguered states of West Africa. 

At the end of last year, Islamists kidnapped 344 schoolboys in an apparent ransom attempt. While the raid saw a continuation of Boko Haram’s strategy (in 2014 the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, to global condemnation) it marked a change in the terror group’s ambitions. Previously the group had confined itself mainly to the Lake Chad Basin area, with its headquarters in Borno State, encompassing the intersection of northeast Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. December’s kidnapping saw the group travel some 500 miles west to Katsina in the north of the country.

The growing confidence of these extremist militias has seen Islamist influence spread across the region as deaths soar. During last month’s kidnapping, 110 civilians were butchered, including 76 rice farmers near the village of Zabarmari. Boko Haram, along with the Islamic State in West Africa Province, form a jihadist umbrella in West Africa, encompassing Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to Isis in March 2015, but differences between the core groups of Boko Haram and Isis led to the latter installing Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the chief of its West African branch in August 2016. The two factions, still labelled collectively as Boko Haram, have killed over 30,000 people and displaced millions in the region.

There are thousands of fighters, agitating and killing for an equatorial Caliphate

Last year saw Boko Haram launch its deadliest ever jihadist attack leading to the deaths of 92 Chadian soldiers. The group also orchestrated militant attacks on a refugee camp in Cameroon, slaying 50 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush, they massacred 30 motorists (and kidnapped yet more women and children) on a Maiduguri highway and annihilated

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