The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram’s claim to have established a caliphate – or a state ruled under Islamic law – in part of Nigeria draws inspiration from ISIS insurgents and from a desire for more world attention, said experts.
Boko Haram has claimed that Gwoza town in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state is now under an Islamic caliphate, Agence France Presse reports. However, the meaning of the declaration is unclear.
Experts said that the move may be an effort by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau to raise his own profile, given the recent success of ISIS, which has claimed a caliphate in Iraq.
David Cook, a Rice University religious studies professor who studies Boko Haram, told Agence France Presse that he believes the caliphate proclamation comes from “a desire to emulate” ISIS. He said the statement was largely about “trying to get more media attention.”
Shehu Sani, an expert on religious violence in northern Nigeria, said that events in Iraq have given direction to Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, a Nigerian group whose name means “Western education is sinful,” is blamed for the deaths of more than 10,000 people and has displaced thousands more since its uprising began in 2009. Boko Haram advocates a strict interpretation of Islamic law and has targeted Christian churches for violence.
Sani, who has brokered peace talks with the militant Nigerian group, told Agence France Presse that the group’s leaders previously planned to conquer all of Nigeria before declaring an Islamic state. However, ISIL has inspired them to take “a more gradualist approach.”
The Nigerian militants have changed their tactics from hit-and-run attacks to attacking and holding territory and towns. Several towns are now under their control.
A caliphate existed in the region before its 1903 conquest by British forces. That Islamic state, known as the Sokoto Caliphate, was established early in the 19th century by Usman dan Fodio, who waged jihad to eliminate what he considered to be deviations from Islam.
That previous caliphate has no direct connection to Boko Haram, though it may serve as a symbolic inspiration for some, according to University College London professor emeritus of anthropology Murray Last.
Last told Agence France Presse that Boko Haram would not submit itself to ISIS’s proclaimed caliphate, but agreed that took inspiration from ISIS. Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, has previously voiced support for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Boko Haram drew worldwide condemnation in April after abducting hundreds of schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northern Nigeria.
Christian advocacy groups and human rights groups had long warned of the dangers of Boko Haram, but the Obama administration only designated the group as terrorist in November 2013.
At the time of the designation Emmanuel Ogebe, a legal expert on Nigeria with the Jubilee Campaign, suggested that the U.S. State Department had denied the group’s religious motivations in a manner that impeded its analysis of the threat posed by Boko Haram.