Islamic extremists in West Africa have reaffirmed their allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as deadly attacks occurred with greater frequency across the Sahel region in the last several months.
The Long War Journal, a news outlet operated by the Washington-based policy institute Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reports that militants in Mali and Burkina Faso released a short video Saturday renewing their fealty to the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
According to FDD senior fellow Thomas Joscelyn, the Islamic State West Africa Province continues to compete with al-Qaeda loyalists in the region for the allegiance of potential terrorists.
Joscelyn explained that the new video published on Saturday is “intended to underscore the commitment of Baghdadi’s followers despite setbacks in Iraq and Syria.” In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has largely been pushed out of its strongholds, but sleeper cells do still exist.
“The footage is introduced with a text slide declaring the fighters’ solidarity with the Islamic State, saying they are still ‘loyal’ to their oath and will continue to battle the forces of unbelief, which claim to have ‘eradicated the caliphate,’” Joscelyn details.
“The jihadists ask Allah to grant Baghdadi’s caliphate ‘glory’ in ‘perpetuity.’ The text then declares that the jihadists’ ‘renew’ their [pledge of allegiance] to the ‘caliph of the Muslims, the mujahid Sheikh Abu-Bakr al-Husseini al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi.’”
Amid a rise in attacks in northern Burkina Faso, concerns have been raised about Christians being driven almost completely out of villages. A number of attacks in recent months have targeted churches and worshiping Christians in the country.
The evangelical aid charity Barnabas Fund reports that as many as 49 Christians have been killed since April 28 in Burkina Faso while as many as 82 pastors and 1,145 Christians have been displaced to the city of Kaya from northern parts of Burkina Faso.
“It’s proven they were looking for Christians,” one contact told the Barnabas Fund. “Families who hide Christians are killed.”
Joscelyn explained that the recorded portion of the video features a militant identified as Abu Salmah al-Mangawi, who was joined by other militants as he delivered the statement.
Al-Mangawi claimed that the group is committed to implementing Sharia law “throughout the entire world” and claims that God has “bestowed glory upon the Islamic caliphate.”
Al-Mangawi reportedly portrays the Islamic State as a force of “unity” that is bridging various extremist factions from around the world.
According to Joscelyn, Al-Mangawi also touted the Islamic State West Africa Province’s success in carrying out attacks across the region and even capturing small towns in Nigeria despite international efforts to defeat terror in the region.
“We pledge [allegiance] to the caliph of the Muslims, the Amir-ul-Mumineen [Commander of the Faithful], Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to listen and obey, during hardship and ease and during difficulty and prosperity,” Al-Mangawi was quoted as saying.
The Nigeria-based terror group Boko Haram splintered in 2016 with some militants branching off and affiliating with the Islamic State West Africa Province. The splinter has carried out a number of attacks against Nigerian military posts in the past few months.
The Islamic State West Africa Province claimed responsibility for a suicide attack this Monday that took the lives of over 20 at a military base in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state.
According to a United Nations report from March, as many as 4.2 million people have fled from violence across the Sahel region.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in Burkina Faso where an upsurge in armed attacks has caused massive internal displacement,” U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller said in a statement at the time. “Thousands of families, young children, men and women are surviving in utterly difficult conditions, some in overcrowded tents, and without enough food, water or medical attention.”