Observers of jihadism in West Africa have been aware for some time of the split that occurred between the official Islamic State West Africa affiliate (Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyah: 'West Africa province') and the group led by Abu Bakr Shekau, who had originally served as head of the West Africa affiliate after the allegiance pledge to the Islamic State in 2015. Shekau, who came to be seen as too extreme even by the Islamic State's standards, was denounced as a Kharijite in a book issued by the Islamic State West Africa affiliate in 2018, and it was documented in that book that Shekau's group (which has largely been based in Sambisa Forest) and the West Africa affiliate had fought each other.
While some observers might have hoped that the infighting would ease the problem of jihadist insurgency for the Nigerian government and other governments in the region, such hopes have proved illusory (rather similar to the misguided hopes that the Islamic State-Syrian rebel infighting that became full-blown in early 2014 would be of benefit to the West). It appears that the West Africa affiliate launched an offensive into the Sambisa Forest in a definitive bid to destroy Shekau's group. Shekau himself appears to have been killed and a significant proportion if not the majority of the members of his group have now joined the Islamic State's West Africa affiliate. Indeed, the West Africa affiliate was commended for its efforts to destroy Shekau's group in the recent speech of the Islamic State's spokesman. While some small remnants might still be loyal to the cause Shekau espoused, it is fair to say that his group has been effectively defeated.
The Islamic State's West Africa affiliate has released a video advertising the defection of members of Shekau's group in the Sambisa Forest to the West Africa affiliate, dubbed the return to the 'group of the Muslims' (in Arabic: Jama'at al-Muslimeen). The video features different fighters speaking in different languages but with Arabic translation where necessary. It also features scenes of a mass pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State's 'caliph.' It concludes with a scene of an attack on a Nigerian army barracks and a fighter who allegedly defected from Shekau's group, declaring that while the separation may have delighted the disbelievers yesterday, now it will be a source of rage for them. The video is also useful for a succinct summary of the Islamic State's message to the world: unite in worship of God and submit to us, or we will keep fighting you forever. While some might believe the Islamic State's messaging requires complex-sounding 'academic' analysis, the reality is that you can understand it in a matter of minutes, which is probably what makes it compelling for some of those who want ideological certainty to govern their lives.
By the suggestion of a certain analyst from a land renowned for chocolate and biscuit production, I have decided to provide a transcript of the relevant parts of the video, which is entitled 'Those who command what is right.'
Those who command what is right
Return to the group of the Muslims in West Africa
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the one after whom there is no prophet, and on his family, companions and whoso is loyal to him. As for what follows:
God Almighty has said: 'Oh you who have believed, fear God as He deserves and do not die except as Muslims, and cling to God's rope entirely and do not separate. And remember the bounty of God upon you as you were enemies, so He conciliated between your hearts so you became by His bounty brothers as you were upon the verge of Hellfire so He saved you from it'- (Al Imran 102-103).
My brothers in God, God has blessed us by His grace, generosity and doing good, with a great bounty. He has brought us and our brothers together after the disagreements that happened. This is a great bounty and therefore we praise Him and give Him sincere thanks. We ask the Exalted and Almighty to grant us success to follow His Book and the Sunna of His Messenger (SAWS), and to unite our ranks, and gather our force on the Truth. Indeed He is the trustee of that and capable of it.
I convey glad tidings to the Caliph of the Muslims regarding that by which God has blessed us and his subjects, and it is the bounty of clinging and complying with the group and rallying under the Caliph of the Muslims, so glad tidings to you oh our Caliph. And if God wills, we will obey you in our enthusiasm and our compulsion and to accept what is imposed on us by the permission of God Almighty. So rejoice, for indeed God has gathered the brothers and their power and opinion and all their affairs have united. So rejoice, for indeed God will not make us go to loss.
Praise be to God. We thank the Almighty. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate in the Sambisa Forest. Praise be to God we send our regards and glad tidings to the Caliph of the Muslims Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. We convey to him the glad tidings that God Almighty has brought us and our brothers together after Satan caused bloodshed between us and them. And today, and praise be to God, there is no division or disagreement between us and our brothers. And you will find us as your obedient soldiers, and indeed our rank has come together as one man. And this is our message to our Caliph: by God we ask that He should make us steadfast on the Book and Sunna, and make Paradise the refuge of all of us.
God the Exalted and Almighty says in the Qur'an: 'And cling to God's rope entirely and do not separate. And remember the bounty of God upon you as you were enemies, so He conciliated between your hearts so you became by His bounty brothers'- (Al Imran 103). We have now joined with our brothers after some mistakes that have occurred between us, and here we are now together. So we say to our brothers: we should not renege in our effort to fight the disbelievers.
Oh disbelievers, oh disbelievers from the hypocrites, apostates and others besides them, we say to you: repent and convert to Islam. Repent and convert to Islam. For if you refuse and turn back, then know that God supports His religion and His believing servants from where you do not realise. Therefore repent and convert to Islam before there comes upon you a day in which regret is of no use.
As for my second message, it is to the disbelievers. I say to them: die in your rage. You were striving hard to separate us. And here we are today, God Almighty has conciliated between us and our brothers and soon you will see what afflicts you terribly if God wills. So await.
Praise be to God, only jihad has remained, and know oh disbelievers, that we will not stop or refrain from fight you ever, so woe and then woe to you.
We have not gathered here except to say to you that our brothers who entered Sambisa, God has brought us and them together. So hear oh disbelievers, there are only between us and you the iron and the fire if God Almighty wills.
As for our message to the disbelievers of the world: that is, the Christians, the non-Christians, the hypocrites and the Tawagheet, we say to them: repent to God. Let them come and worship God so that we will [enter] Paradise. And if anybody who does not come to the worship of God wherever he is in this world, God the Exalted and Almighty is going to take us and we'll fight them all over, so let's everybody come worship God. Our aim, our aim in this world is not to kill people but to bring them into the Islam so as to worship God, as God the Exalted and Almighty is saying in the Qur'an: 'And I have not created Jinn and men except to worship me'- (al-Dhariyat 56). So we are calling human beings to come and worship God so that in the Paradise, you will gain the Paradise in the Hereafter. So this is our message to the Christians.
Oh Muslims, oh mujahideen in the path of God, arise, arise, arise and make your intentions pure, and prepare for your jihad, and obey your amirs in what is right, and support your religion with your wealth and lives, for indeed God the Exalted and Almighty supports the one who supports His religion and plants firm his feet, and this is inevitably so. The Almighty has said: 'Oh you who have believed, if you support God, He will support you and plant firm your feet. And those who have disbelieved, woe to them, and He has made their deeds go astray. That is because they have hated what God has brought down so He has made their deeds come to nought'- (Muhammad 7-9).
The message we have for our brothers is let us together come in one rank and worship God in the said way that God the Exalted and Almighty has enjoined on us.
As for my third message, I direct it to the general mass of the Muslims in men and women, old and young. I say to them: here is the Caliphate that has arisen, so gather around it and wage jihad under its banner and live in its protection.
('Renewal of the allegiance pledge to the Caliph of the Muslims after returning to the group').
('Joy of the Muslims in renewing the allegiance pledge to the Caliph of the Muslims').
('One of the brothers returning to the group'):
'We praise God the Exalted and Almighty who has granted for us to conquer this barracks that is in the locality of Katafila. We say to you oh disbelievers of the world, indeed our separation that made you delighted yesterday will be today upon you a source of rage by the permission of God. For here we are now, we have assaulted the barracks of Katafila with our brothers. And you will see our vanguards tomorrow from where it does not come to your mind by the permission of God.'
Oh God, indeed this religion is your religion, and these servants your servants, and this land your land. Oh God, support the one who supports it, and forsake the one who forsakes it. Oh God, make things right among us through bringing us together and conciliate between our hearts, and guide us to the paths of peace. And bring us out from darkness to light, and make us avoid the obscenities on the outside and inside, oh Lord of the Worlds. We have no power or force except in You. And God's blessings, salutations and blessings be on our Prophet Muhammad, and all his family and companions, and praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.
Media Office for West Africa Wilaya- Dhu al-Q'ida 1442 AH.