Boko Haram beheading video shows ties to ISIS, say experts

Nigerian Islamic terrorist organization releases new video Monday of two prisoner beheadings. Are they now working with ISIS? Plus, ISIS' expansion into Libya


Nigerian Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram has taken a page out of the ISIS playbook, releasing a new video Monday of two prisoner beheadings so similar to clips posted by the Middle East jihadist group that experts now believe the terror groups are working together.

The 6-minute video, titled “Harvest of Spies,” translated into English, French and Arabic, was posted Monday on Twitter by Boko Haram's media arm and initially reported by Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), which monitors terrorist groups online. It shows a farmer confessing under duress to spying for the police, and shows a second man, then cuts to footage of both, decapitated with their heads on their chests. The video was tweeted out by ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts.

“This latest release shows Boko Haram is not a mere copycat of ISIS; rather, it is incorporating itself into the Islamic State,” said Veryan Khan, editorial director of TRAC. “Islamic state supporters are already starting to call Boko Haram the ‘Islamic State Africa.'"

“This latest release shows Boko Haram is not a mere copy cat of ISIS, rather it is incorporating itself into the Islamic State.”

- Veryan Khan, TRAC

The grisly beheading video was produced in the style of ISIS videos that have shown Americans James Foley, Steven Sotloff, both journalists, and aid worker Peter Kassig before and after they were killed. Boko Haram previously published only one beheading, of a Nigerian fighter pilot whose plane went down in September.

Even before Monday's gruesome video, experts had begun to notice the African terrorist group was beginning to adopt ISIS tactics. A slick recruiting video package Boko Haram released last month was so similar to one the Middle East jihadist group put out previously that analysts told it could not be coincidental.  A trailer Boko Haram released on Feb. 18 was followed by a feature film posted days later on Twitter Feb 21, a pattern that has become a hallmark of ISIS.

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“This is huge news,” said Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, after seeing videos released by Boko Haram that use high definition cameras, special effects, and the same media platform as ISIS as polished as any of ISIS’ sophisticated cinematography productions.

“I believe Boko Haram is more than just copying the Islamic State -- their image is being ‘shaped’ at very least in the ISIS media wing,” Khan said. “Immediately after Baghdadi declared the Islamic State Caliphate, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau did the same. We then started seeing (in the videos) the Islamic State flags being painted onto Boko Haram’s most prized possessions, their AFVs and tanks, most recently on Feb. 20 during the ops within the Northeastern Nigeria border.”

ISIS’ cruelty -- beheading, crucifying, stoning and even burning alive its prisoners and putting it on high definition video -- has horrified the world. Boko Haram is much older than the one-year-old ISIS, and has driven some 3 million people from their homes in northeast Africa over the last five years. Both groups have slaughtered whole villages, taken women and children slaves, and set off bombs that kill dozens at a time.

There is more evidence of this growing allegiance, including the ISIS flag on its logo, ISIS music and songs in latest Boko Haram propaganda videos; and Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, praising leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Jasmine Opperman, TRAC’s director of African operations, and Khan, noted there also are similar propaganda strategies in terms of frequency, content representation and use of the social media Twitter.

“Jan. 18, Boko Haram opened its first Twitter account -- it was taken down within a week, but the group had never tried a campaign via Twitter before,” Khan said, noting Boko Haram immediately gained more than 3,000 followers. “There was grassroots support for Boko Haram from Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts.”

Another noticeable change – some of the messages from leaders are targeting the West, translated into English, likely indicating the Twitter handler's content is produced, managed and distributed from outside northeast Nigeria, Khan said.

Another significant change to the Boko Haram strategy – Shekau – who Khan compares to a “witch doctor” – does not make an appearance in the first new video or on the Twitter account.

“The very first video presented on this account was ‘new style’ video featuring an interview with a Boko Haram spokesman, not Shekau,” Khan said. “This is very important to note because Shekau loves himself so much he almost never allows a major video to go out where he is not the star.”

Then there is the notable image ‘makeover’ for Shekau in a video release that followed.

“If you have spent any time watching Boko Haram, you would know that Shekau is truly insane and his version of Islam is even too radical for Islamic State, a mixture of part witch doctor/part voodoo/part radical Islam. He is usually screaming, surrounded by a posse, and at least one tank,” Khan said. “This last video is a totally new Shekau, calm, cool collective. Someone is directing his image. My thought is he is a wild card that Islamic State cannot afford to ally with unless they rebrand him or get rid of him entirely.”

So why would the world’s most terrifying groups align from different continents?

“The ISIS is clear in its objectives -- to expand the Islamic Caliphate Project by means of expansion and control,” Opperman said. “This is not only achieved by means of gaining physical control in areas, but gaining support and loyalty from individuals, groups and organizations. A pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram will serve this objective.”

In addition, Boko Haram is the only other terrorist group in the world that currently holds and governs territory, and is the only really successful terrorist group in all of Africa, Khan said.

The implications, both Opperman and Khan agree, are staggering.

“Boko Haram's power projection will gain an image boost with such a pledge,” Opperman said.

She questions whether this will lead to actual action on the ground. Except for Libya, groups in North Africa -- Algerian and Tunisia -- pledged allegiance but did not gain much in terms of battlefield capabilities from the ISIS alliance, Opperman said.

“Unless there is a concerted effort from the ISIS to ship in fighters and weapons, Boko Haram is not going to gain immediate increased capabilities,” Opperman said.