What is the difference between Boko Haram and ISWAP?
To better understand the difference between Boko Haram and ISWAP, we need revisit the root cause of their split into two factions.
Boko Haram, also known as Jam’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihd [JAS], which means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teaching and Jihad’ in Arabic, opposes all Western ideologies.
Their worldview stressed rigorous commitment to Islam by establishing sharia rule throughout Nigeria and attacking government and military targets directly.
Under the late Abubakar Shekau’s leadership, the group morphed into a more extremist Salafist Islamist organisation in 2009.
Using suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices, they escalated the number of violent and cruel invasions against civilians, mosques, churches, and hospitals.
In August 2011, a suicide vehicle bomber detonated a bomb at the United Nations offices in Abuja. Boko Haram’s goal for a caliphate led them to conquer large swaths of land in the country’s northeast in 2014, where they slaughtered men, women, and children indiscriminately.
In Borno state, one of the greatest atrocities occurred in Baga, where almost 2,000 people were killed in a matter of hours. The group’s extremist ideological discourse was highlighted by their vow of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in March 2015, prompting them to rebrand as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).
One of the most concerning aspects of the insurgency was the sexual abuse and exploitation of civilians by the terrorists. Young girls and women were being kidnapped, raped, used as suicide bombers, and forcibly married off to insurgent fighters.
Young boys and men were also not left out of their cruelty. If they refused to swear allegiance to the group, they were conscripted or executed.
Boko Haram has employed gender-based violence against civilians as a strategic tactic of warfare. The kidnapping of 276 female schoolgirls in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, in April 2014 was the most devastating example of this gendered insecurity. This made national and worldwide headlines, and sparked a global #BringBackOurGirls twitter campaign.
The difference between Boko Haram and ISWAP
The two factions’ ideological differences surfaced long before the split in 2016, as tensions between members grew under the late Shekau’s leadership.
These positions impacted each side’s strategies and operations after the division. Understanding the schism between the two factions is critical to comprehending their opposing beliefs and methods of operation.
Boko Haram’s disintegration is a story about irreconcilable ideological and political differences as well as competing personalities.
While ISWAP opposes the recruitment of women for suicide bombings or as human shields, Boko Haram relied heavily on female operatives until recently.
According to a report published by the Combating Terrorism Center, women and children affiliated with Boko Haram carried out 56 percent of the suicide attacks carried out by the Shekau-led Boko Haram between April 2011 and June 2017.
Boko Haram became the first religious terror group to utilize more female suicide bombers than any other during that time period.
The fact that ISWAP opposes Shekau’s tactics and leadership style does not make it any less vicious; like its adopted parent group, the Islamic State, ISWAP relies on violence and compulsion. It has, nevertheless, formed a mutually beneficial connection with the people in the areas affected by the insurgency.
ISWAP has engaged in significant propaganda since its breakaway, portraying Shekau’s Boko Haram as twisted and a hopeless cause, noting his horrible treatment of Muslim people, while promoting a language that promotes ISWAP as a lesser evil.
Despite the obvious contradictions between the group’s language and deeds, ISWAP has succeeded in establishing itself as a merciful and forgiving organization that forgives those who repent and support their bid for an Islamic state.
Furthermore, the Islamic State has outlawed Muslims from being targeted, claiming that anyone who does so is acting alone and not in the name of the Caliphate, and that it does not accept responsibility for such actions.
Unlike Boko Haram, ISWAP has categorically condemned the killing or attacks on unarmed and neutral Muslims, with the exception of those who work for the government or humanitarian relief organizations.