Return of the Caliphate: Analysing ISWAP’s Recent Media Releases
The Islamic State in West Africa has long proven to be one of the most deadly terror groups in the world, however its recent media releases suggest a more sinister story…
The Islamic State’s West Africa province (ISWAP) has long been one of the groups flagship entities, with it being the only one to consistently hold territory since the territorial caliphate fell after the Battle of Baghouz in 2019. Considering this fact, it should not come as a surprise that IS Central began increasing its focus on West Africa, positioning it as the resurrection of its caliphate project, a fact reflected in its media releases.
Maker of Epic Battles
On October 31st 2021, the Islamic States Media office released the fifth instalment in its ‘Maker of Epic Battles’ series, this time highlighting the exploits of its West Africa affiliate. The nearly 17 minute video chronicles ISWAP’s military operations against the Nigerian Army, showcasing several alarming details.
In the video it becomes glaringly apparent that the group is extremely well equipped, with an abundance of assault rifles, machine guns, and RPG’s on display. However, the most notable piece from ISWAP’s arsenal is the Piranha Armored Fighting Vehicle we see the militants operating. This vehicle use is exclusive to West Africa at this time in the global Islamic State network, indicating its maturity as an affiliate.
This video also shows off a high degree of uniformity amongst ISWAP’s ranks, with the militants looking more like a standard army than a ragtag insurgency. We saw the standard fighters wearing their sand coloured uniforms, and the so-called “special forces” members wearing black. This level of uniformity suggests a high degree of cohesion and organisation within the group, as well as it having fairly developed supply lines.
The next full media release from ISWAP was on January 18th 2022, this time reminiscent of the territorial caliphate glory days in Syria, it focused on the younger generation. The video consisted of showing the daily routines of young members of ISWAP, those aged 12-18 featured heavily.
The video opened with the young members, or ‘cubs’ as the group describes them, participate in the dawn prayer. The uniformly dressed young boys also spend time reciting the Quran before attending formal schooling. Unlike the traditional schooling of most 12-18 year olds, the children featured in the video spend their time learning about religious aqidah (creed), ‘Arabic sciences’, and the life of the prophet Muhammad. It is evident that ISWAP has placed an emphasis on ensuring that the prospective next generation of jihadists are fully indoctrinated into the cause.
The video also takes a darker, more sinister turn when the children are shown partaking in the military aspect of their daily routine. The boys are shown participating in physical exercises such as push ups and an obstacle course before conducting what seems like a mock combat scenario. During the several mock combat scenarios we see the boys find a tied up Nigerian Army prisoner. The boys lead each prisoner out before executing each one in a similar fashion.
ISWAP is continuously demonstrating itself to be a serious regional threat, and the most likely vessel for a resurgence of the territorial caliphate model last seen in Iraq and Syria. It’s slick media productions have demonstrated a high degree of organisation and uniformity, suggesting mature operational capabilities and developed supply lines to match. The group is also actively instilling its ideology in the next generation, an aspect not highlighted since the organisations peak in Iraq and Syria, suggesting it only intends to expand its presence in the region for years to come.