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Chronicling the Boko Haram Decade in Nigeria (2010-2020): distinguishing factions through videographic analysis

Pages 1242-1294
Received 30 Jan 2020
Accepted 17 Apr 2020
Published online: 07 Aug 2020


Boko Haram videos are among the only windows into the group leadership’s ideology. However, previous studies of Boko Haram videos treated the group monolithically and neither distinguished between internal factions nor analyzed cinematographic settings in each faction’s videos. At a time when the two groups known as Boko Haram–Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Jamaat Ahlussunnah lid-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS)–rival each other and combat Nigerian and subregional military forces, this article argues it is imperative to examine factions’ contrasting self-presentations in videos. While one faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi revealed combat skill and lectured about an Islamic state, another faction led by Abubakar Shekau revealed veneration of Shekau, masses of worshippers in group territories, and imposing sharia punishments. Even when these factions were nominally unified, they still produced media separately and competed to control communications to Islamic State. Another Boko Haram breakaway group called Ansaru also influenced Boko Haram videos after some members reintegrated into Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s faction. This article demonstrates how in jihadist groups the one wielding the camera also wields power and how jihadist videos can facilitate understanding a group’s internal dynamics.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).


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4. Inman, “Review”; Khalil, “Guide to Interviewing.”

5. It is possible that there are videos that have not been obtained by this author, including videos produced internally. In the case of ISWAP it is unlikely any official videos have been “missed” by this author, however, because since March 2015 they have been released through formal IS media channels and fairly easily accessible. JAS videos from 2010-March 2015 and, to an extent, from August 2016-present, were released through inconsistent methods and were sometimes not released on open forums, which made it more likely to “miss” one. Nevertheless, I believe all known videos, including those cited in other academic literature, are examined in this article.

6. Eveslage, “Clarifying Boko Haram’s”; Mahmood, “More than Propaganda”; Kassim and Nwankpa, Boko Haram Reader; Apard, “Boko Haram: Le djihad en video.”

7. Pérouse de Montclos, “Djihad,” 173.

8. The videos are archived at https://unmaskingbokoharam.com. They are generally cited in this article according to their dates of release, rather than video titles, because titles were often unspecified or were generic and duplicative.

9. See, for example, Pennington and Krona, Media World.

10. Hentz, “The Multidimensional Nature,” 850, 858.

12. Hentz, “The Multidimensional Nature,” 850.

13. Higazi, “Mobilisation,” 7.

14. Ibid., 40.

15. Ibid., 5.

16. Thurston, “Amid Boko Haram’s,” 409.

17. Al-Barnawi, Slicing.

18. Winter, “Redefining ‘Propaganda.’”

19. Al-Tamimi, “Dissent.”

20. Higazi, “Mobilisation,” 5.

21. Ibid., 7.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Moaveni, “Listening to terror.”

25. Nasrullah, “Survival,” 14.

26. Anyadike, “Reporter’s Diary.”

27. Higazi, “Mobilisation,” 7; Thurston, “Amid Boko Haram’s,” 409.

28. Kane, “Moderate Revivalists,” 67; US Embassy Abuja, “Shaykh Minimizes Militancy.”

29. Kane, “Moderate Revivalists.”

30. See, for example, ISWAP’s improvised up-armored vehicles at this link: https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/06/iswap-svbieds-drones-and-markings-2015-onwards/.

31. Kassim and Nwankpa, Boko Haram Reader, 4.

32. Ibid., 31.

33. Author’s colleague’s interview with Abu Aisha, Kano, 2019. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/30/abu-aisha-interview-2019/. See also Bukarti, “Origins.”

34. See, for example, Zenn, Jacob, “Primer.”

35. Higazi et al, “Response,” 6.

36. Author’s colleague’s interview with Abu Aisha, Kano, 2019. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/30/abu-aisha-interview-2019/.

37. Ouzani, Cherif, “Fin de cavale pour l’émir du desert,” Jeune Afrique, April 26, 2004, https://www.jeuneafrique.com/70515/archives-thematique/fin-de-cavale-pour-l-mir-du-d-sert/. Ouzani, Cherif, “Sale temps pour les djihadistes,” Jeune Afrique, May 10, 2004. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/09/jeune-afrique-sale-temps-pour-les-djihadistes-may-10-2004/. Al-Ansari, “Message.” Wali, “Letter Dated 27 September 2006”; US Embassy Abuja, “Spot Report: Daily Trust.”

38. Al-Ansari, “Message”; Hisham, “Shaykh Usama,” 7.

39. Kafa and Habib, “Clash of Civilizations”; Assalafiy, “Masu.”

40. Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity,” 88.

41. Fisher, Ali, “Focus on what events and material means to Salafi-Jihadi groups – Da’wa as Constant on the Path of Jihad.” Onlinejihad.net, March 27, 2020, https://onlinejihad.net/2020/03/27/focus-on-what-events-and-material-means-to-salafi-jihadi-groups-dawa-as-constant-on-the-path-of-jihad/.

42. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 37.

43. Marighella, “Minimanual.”

44. Al-Bulaydi, “Sharia Advice,” 2; Brigaglia and Iocci, “Some Advice,” 29.

45. Omipidan, Ismail, “How Yusuf Imported Arms into the Country,” NBF Topics, October 10, 2009, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/06/omipidan-how-yusuf-imported-arms -into-the-country-from-2009/.

46. Al-Barnawi, Abu Musab, “The Wali of West Africa.”

47. Importantly, in March 2019 ISWAP released an audio claiming Abu Musab al-Barnawi was demoted from ISWAP leadership and that Ba Idrisa replaced him. However, IS never acknowledged that leadership change. Moreover, al-Barnawi was reported killed in early 2020 in ISWAP infighting.

48. Yusuf, Muhammed, “Open Letter Sermon,” June 12, 2009, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/06/mamman-nur-speech-on-jihad-approx-2008-2/; Hegghammer, Jihadi Culture.

49. Screenshots of the Telegram data-dump and its videos and audios are available at: https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/06/mamman-nur-speech-on-jihad-approx-2008-2/.

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51. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 14–15.

52. Kassim and Nwankpa, Boko Haram Reader, 134.

53. Al-Bulaydi, “Sharia Advice,” 6; Ansar al-Mujahideen, “Answers of Open Interview (Abu Abdullah Ahmed),” September 6, 2012. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/30/aqim-abdullah-ahmed-interview-2012/.

54. Gusau, Isa, and Sharafa Dauda, “Borno Shivers over Threats of Boko Haram’s Return,” Daily Trust, July 4, 2010, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/20/daily-trust-borno-shivers-over-threats-of-boko-harams-return-july-4-2010/. AFP, “Islamist Leader Shekau Hiding in Desert,” July 16, 2010, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/11/afp-islamist-leader-shekau-hiding-in-the-desert-july-16-2010/; Shekau, Abubakar, “Declaring War,” Circa July 2010, Video, 13:57. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/27/abubakar-shekau-video-declaring-war-approx-july-2010/.

55. An abbreviated name for Jama’at Izalat al Bid’a Wa Iqamat as Sunna (JIBWIS).

56. Shekau, “Declaring War.”

59. Salkida, Ahmad, “The Story of Nigeria’s First Suicide Bomber,” Blueprint, June 26, 2011m http://saharareporters.com/2011/06/26/story-nigerias-first-suicide-bomber-blueprint-magazine.

60. AFP, “Nigerian ‘Bomber’ Video Emerge as Islamist Fears Mount,” YouTube, September 18, 2011, Video, 00:44. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIcDglXJcvo&feature=player_embedded.

61. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 42.

62. For archive.org, see, for example: https://archive.org/details/bshracom.eajond.

64. CBSNews.com, “Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora,” Undated, https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/osama-bin-laden-tora-bora/.

69. Ibid; Nasrullah, Fulan. “Can Senegal Bear the Costs of a War With Boko Haram?” fulansitrep, November 24, 2015, https://fulansitrep.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/can-senegal-bear-the-costs-of-a-war-with-boko-haram/.

71. Eveslage, “Clarifying Boko Haram’s.”

72. Ibid.

74. Ibid.

75. Shekau, Abubakar, “Praise to God,” Recovered May 2, 2011, at Osama bin Laden’s compound, Abbottabad, Pakistan; released March 2016. English: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl2016/english/Praise%20be%20to%20God%20the%20Lord%20of%20all%20worlds.pdf; Saleh, Abu Muhammed, “In the Name of Allah,” Drafted January 22, 2010, recovered May 2, 2011, at Osama bin Laden’s compound, Abbottabad, Pakistan, released November 2017. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2020/01/12/cia-hisham-abu-akram-saleh-abu-muhammed-osama-bin-laden-nov-2017-document-releases/.

76. Shekau, Abubakar, “Eid al-Fitr Message,” Al-Andalus, October 2010, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/30/abubakar-shekau-eid-el-fitr-message-october-2010/.

77. Al-Bulaydi, “Sharia,” 13.

79. Author’s Interview with Nafiu Baba-Ahmed, Abuja, Nigeria, November 2018.

80. Ibid; Abu Mansur al-Fulani al-Adamawi video,” Circa 2012-2013, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/28/abubakar-shekau-you-are-a-lion-nasheed-approx-2010/.

81. Shekau, Abubakar, “November 26, 2012 video,” Al-Minbar al-Ilami al-Jihadi. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/07/abubakar-shekau-message-to-the-islamic-state-in-northern-mali-november-29-2012/.

82. Ansar al-Mujahideen, “Open Meeting Answers of Sanda Bouamama,” August 14, 2012, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/20/sanda-ould-bouamama-interview-with-ansar-al-mujahideen-forum-august-2012/; Al-Akhbar, “Leader of Tawhid wal-Jihad: Our Movement Is Developing and Has No Friction with Al-Qaeda,” April 28, 2012, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/30/al-akhbar-leader-of-mujao-hamadou-kheiry-we-are-developing-and-have-no-friction-with-al-qaeda-april-28-2012/; Katibat al-Mulathamin, “Statement of Khalid Abu al-Abbas Claiming the Mujahidin Operation in Niger,” Ansar al-Mujahideen, May 24, 2013, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/10/katibat-al-mulathamin-epic-battles-of-the-fathers-the-battle-of-shaykh-abd-al-hamid-abu-zayd-2013/.

83. Pérouse de Montclos, “Sectarian Jihad,” 894.

84. Africa Confidential, “Taking the Hostage Road,” March 15, 2013, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/08/africa-confidential-taking-the-hostage-road-march-15-2013/.

85. Higazi et al, “Response,” 203.

87. Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja Judicial Division. FHC/ABJ/CR/ … /2017, “Between Federal Republic of Nigeria and Mohammed Usman (aka Khalid al-Barnawi) et al., 2017,” https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/30/high-court-of-nigeria-khalid-al-barnawi -case-march-14-2017/.

88. Fulan Nasrullah @FulanNasrullah, April 16, 2019. https://twitter.com/FulanNasrullah/status/1162360583515181058.

89. Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Factional Feuds,” 11.

90. Nwabufo, Fredrick, “DSS ‘Captures’ al-Barnawi’s ‘Deputy,’ Danhajiya,” The Cable, April 13, 2016, https://www.thecable.ng/iran-iraq-behind-shiia-sect-says-dss-official.

91. AFP, “Boko Haram ‘Holding’ Kidnapped French Priest,” November 16, 2013, https://www.france24.com/en/20131115-nigeria-boko-haram-holding-french-priest-kidnapped-cameroon.

92. Nossiter, Adam, “New Threat in Nigeria as Militants Split Off,” New York Times, April 23, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/world/africa/in-nigeria-ansaru-militant-group-poses-new-threat.html.

93. Ansar al-Mujahideen, “Answers of Open Interview (Abu Abdullah Ahmed),” September 6, 2012, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/30/aqim-abdullah-ahmed-interview-2012/.

94. Higazi et al, “Response,” 207, 210.

95. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 39.

97. Van Ostaeyen, Pieter (@p_vanostaeyen), Twitter, February 5, 2019, https://twitter.com/p_vanostaeyen/status/1092831791440949248.

99. Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Factional Feuds,” 14-16.

100. AFP, “Boko Haram ‘Holding’ Kidnapped French Priest,” November 16, 2013, https://www.france24.com/en/20131115-nigeria-boko-haram-holding-french-priest-kidnapped-cameroon.

101. Leadership, “Power Tussle in Boko Haram Led to Sect Leader’s Arrest,” March 25, 2012,” https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/06/leadership-power-tussle-in-boko-haram-led-to -sect-leaders-arrest-2012/.

109. Gojon, Emmanuel and Aminu Abubakar, “Nigeria’s ‘Taliban’ Plot Comeback from Hideouts,” Agence France-Presse, January 11, 2006, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/05/10/afp-nigerias-taliban-plot-comeback-from-hideouts-january-11-2006/.

110. Africa Media, “Scattered Words.”

114. AQIM, “France and the Search for a Mirage.” Al-Andalus, October 29, 2013. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/03/28/aqim-the-search-for-a-mirage-october-2010/.

116. Katibat al-Mulathamin, “Statement by Brother Khalid Abu al-Abbas on Recent Events in Gao,” Sanam al-Islam, June 29, 2012. https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/20/katibat-al-mulathimin-statement-on-gao-june-29-2012/.

119. Vox Peccavi, “Northern Nigeria Internal Security Sitrep—Week Ending 15 March 2014,” March 19, 2014, https://peccaviconsulting.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/northern-nigeria-internal-security-sitrep-week-ending-15-march-2014/.

122. Ibid; Ansaru, “Announcing Formation,” February 1, 2012, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/07/04/vanguard-splinter-group-ansaru-emerges-february-1-2012/.

123. Archive.org, “A Message from Amer Abu Bakr Shekau,” May 12, 2014, https://archive.org/details/AbubakarShekau.

125. Ibid.

127. Pérouse de Montclos, “Djihad,” 173.

128. Ibid, 174, 179.

129. Africa Media, “Scattered Words.”

133. Boko Haram, “Official Youtube Channels Videos,” October 2014-January 2015, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/28/boko-haram-series-of-massacre-videos-late-2014/.

135. Ibid.

137. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 118.

138. Africa Media, “Communiques.”

139. Ibid.

141. Africa Media, “Communiques.”

145. Africa Media, “Communiques”; Africa Media, “Finally!,” May 20, 2015, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/10/boko-haram-communiques-with-pro-islamic-state-africa-media-november-2014-to-february-2015/; Africa Media, “Scattered Words.”

147. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 56–57.

152. Nur, Mamman, “August 2, 2016 Audio”; Al-Barnawi, Slicing; Africa Media. “Scattered.”

154. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 39.

155. Africa Media, “Communiques.”

160. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 82.

161. Al-Tamimi, Abu Malek, “The Nigerian Questions.” Muassasat al-Turath al-Ilmi, drafted March 2015, released May 1, 2018, https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/2019/04/11/abu-malek-al-tamimi-the-nigerian-questions-march-2015/.

176. Nur, “August 2, 2016 Audio.”

177. Al-Barnawi, “The Wali of West Africa.”

179. Al-Barnawi, Slicing, 107.

183. Vanguard, “Boko Haram leader, Al-Barnawi, replaced in a bloodless coup,” March 16, 2019. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/03/boko-haram-leader-al-barnawi-replaced-in-a-bloodless-coup/.

187. Shekau, Abubakar, “August 4, 2016 Audio”; JAS, “August 8, 2016 Video.”

188. Chan, Spear; Onlinejihad.net. “How Decliners Get Data so Wrong,” November 23, 2017, https://onlinejihad.net/2017/11/23/how-decliners-get-data-so-wrong/.

191. Chan, Spear.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Jacob Zenn

Jacob Zenn is an adjunct assistant professor of the graduate-level course ‘Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics’ at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and is a senior fellow on African and Eurasian Affairs at The Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC. Zenn conducted fieldwork in Borno State, Nigeria and Niger, Cameroon, and Chad to map Boko Haram’s organizational structure for the Swiss Embassy in Nigeria prior to the 2016 negotiations related to the Chibok Schoolgirls kidnapping. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown Law, where he earned the commendation of a Global Law Scholar, and has published in journals such Terrorism & Political Violence, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Journal of Modern African Studies, African Security, Journal for De-Radicalization, Perspectives on Terrorism, and CTC Sentinel. Zenn is author of the forthcoming book, Unmasking Boko Haram: Exploring Global Jihad in Nigeria (Lynne Rienner Publishers in association with the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews, spring 2020).

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