In its most recent video, Ansaru, an offshoot of the vicious Boko Haram, differentiates itself from its parent organization. The video, which is nearly 20 minutes long and has English subtitles, includes accusations against the Nigerian military made by the group. "The ammunition and bombs of the Nigerian Army," Ansaru says, "has for long been responsible for loss of a lot of Muslim live (sic)."
The video then goes on to detail the Nigerian military killing civilians near Maidiguri, as well as the burning of houses in other places of northeastern Nigeria. For instance, the video dedicates several minutes to Mundu village, which the group says was burnt down by the Nigerian military. Ansaru interviews several citizens who corroborates their claims. At the end of the segment, an unidentified speaker says "We (Ansaru) must fight them", referring to the military. The video then cuts to Ansaru fighters compensating these same villagers for their losses.
After this, the video then paints Ansaru as the defenders of the Muslims in northeastern Nigeria. While the unidentified speaker talks about "Jihad in the cause of Allah", the video shows several Ansaru fighters training somewhere in Nigeria. The speaker then says, "To protect the lives and properties of the Muslims, away from the actions of Jamaatu Ahl al Sunna Lidda'wati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram." The speaker then charges Boko Haram with deliberately targeting Muslims in mosques and markets. The video ends with the group sending their condolences "to the family of those Muslims killed around the world, especially in Black Africa."
By charging Boko Haram with deliberately killing Muslims, which Ansaru sees as going against the word of God, Ansaru is separating themselves from its parent group. Throughout the video, Ansaru tries to paint themselves as the protectors of the Muslims in Nigeria. The real targets, as Ansaru states, is the Nigerian military.
This is not the first time Ansaru has tried to distance itself from Boko Haram in recent weeks. In a video released in late January, the group also did the same. In that video, an Ansaru figure states "Our aim is different from Jamaatu Ahl al Sunna Lidda'wati wal Jihad (popularly known as Boko Haram) that attack mosques, markets, motor parks and other public places." The video continues by saying, "We (Ansaru) do not kill any Muslim, nor attack the Muslims in the places of their day to day affairs. We only wage jihad to help the weak Muslims who are being oppressed." Screenshots of this video can be seen below, courtesy of Gilles N. on Twitter:
In its designation as a terrorist organization, the US State Department noted Ansaru as being "focused on Nigerian military and Western targets." State notes that while Ansaru has launched numerous attacks on Nigerian military and government targets, Ansaru has "also conducted several kidnappings of foreigners living or working in Nigeria." Ansaru has also conducted military operations to support al Qaeda groups operating in Mali. In January 2013, Ansaru targeted a convoy of Nigerian troops in Kogi state. These troops were preparing to deploy to Mali.
While some analysts have suggested that recent events showcase that Boko Haram is close to the Islamic State and Ansaru loyal to al Qaeda, neither claim has been confirmed. However, both groups have ties to al Qaeda. The Guardian has found that several Boko Haram leaders were in contact with top leaders of al Qaeda. This revelation was due to documents found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Additionally, the State Department has noted that Boko Haram has ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The Long War Journal has also documented that Boko Haram leaders were included in a series of communications of al Qaeda leaders back in the summer of 2013.
According to the Combatting Terrorism Center (CTC), a Nigerian named Khalid al Barnawi, an influential leader in Ansaru, is a former kidnapping accomplice of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian al-Qaeda leader. Another leader within the Ansaru and Boko Haram networks, Mamman Nur, not only has ties to AQIM, but also al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda Central Command and even the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The CTC also documents ties between Boko Haram/Ansaru and al Shabaab, al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia.
Additionally, Ansaru's condemnation of Boko Haram's killing of civilians is reminiscent of various al Qaeda leaders condemning the targeting of civilians. For instance, after the Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in Dec, Usama Mahmood, the spokesman of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent condemned the attack. Like Ansaru, al Qaeda painted the killing of Muslims as "un-Islamic"; furthermore, both groups also identified military establishments as justifiable targets for attack. Other al Qaeda leaders and affiliated groups also spoke out against the attack (interestingly enough, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan didn't). As my colleague Thomas Joscelyn points out, "Al Qaeda and its branches have indiscriminately killed women and children in the Muslim-majority world in the past. But al Qaeda's leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, learned that this was a liability for the group." It appears that Ansaru has adopted a similar approach to managing its propaganda strategy.
In the case for Boko Haram and the Islamic State, no direct ties have been documented. However, recent releases by the group, which includes a new social media presence, suggests the group has at least been inspired by the Islamic State's media productions. At most, Islamic State media personnel have helped Boko Haram revamp its media campaign. While some have suggested that Boko Haram has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Islamic State, this has not been confirmed.