Extremist groups Boko Haram and ISIS are growing increasingly connected in ways that could magnify their abilities to inflict violence and terror, a senior intelligence official revealed Thursday.
National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen drew attention to “the increased intercommunication between Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the northern part of, the northwestern part of Africa, and even with ISIL” during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He then pointed out that these extremist groups were broadening their reach through mutual contact.
“All of that just adds to the picture of an interconnected terrorist network with the ability to share resources, personnel, expertise, and tradecraft in a way that serves as a multiplier to their own capabilities, and that’s a disturbing trend,” Rasmussen told the panel.
Boko Haram has previously been known to mirror the so-called Islamic State’s online media campaigns and push for a land grab, in a way that could have paved the road to future coordination.
But this is the first time that the intelligence community has acknowledged that there was some degree of communication and interconnectivity between the two groups.
As recently as last week, two intelligence officials were playing down the prospect of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS. “There is no known tactical cooperation or leadership communication,” an intelligence official said at a briefing last week with a group of reporters. The officials held the briefing on the condition of anonymity.
The U.S. government is arguing that its coalition against ISIS is succeeding in slowing the extremist group’s momentum on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. But from a strategic vantage point, ISIS has been able to expand its reach through additional affiliations in Africa and even South Asia.
“ISIL has reached out and developed affiliated relationships, endorsement-like relationships with groups outside of Iraq and Syria, including in North Africa, including in Algeria, and including in, I believe, Yemen as well,” Rasmussen said.
Boko Haram’s emerging connections with ISIS could have implications in a war-authorization bill that Congress is now considering. In a draft version submitted to Congress by the White House, the president requested authority to use military force against the Islamic State “and associated forces,” without geographical limitations.
The administration’s acknowledgement of their mutual communication could hypothetically open the door to the authorization to use military force in West Africa against Boko Haram.
The AUMF draft proposed by the White House “likely allowed to the possibility that other networks… might align themselves with ISIL,” Rasmussen said Thursday. The language allows for the “development of new alliances, new alignments that we can’t foresee today.” Rasmussen did not specifically address whether the proposed AUMF could be used to target Boko Haram.
The so-called Islamic State, which recently announced the death of U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller and is responsible for the deaths of several more American hostages, has been undergoing a period of rising notoriety. It announced an expansion in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Saudi Arabia in November. Last month, it confirmed the formation of a South Asian affiliate.
Boko Haram, meanwhile, has been sowing terror in Nigeria—a campaign of “unprecedented violence,” according to Rasmussen. It has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of five Westerners, positing a threat to American and Western interests, and in the past year captured military outposts in the northeast of Nigeria, giving it access and influence over a 380-mile portion of Nigeria’s international borders. Further, Rasmussen said in his testimony, Boko Haram’s violence has displaced over one million people within Nigeria.
Told by Rasmussen about the increasing connections between ISIS and Boko Haram, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said the Senate Intelligence Committee should “keep our eye on” this issue. But Rasmussen had raised one difficulty regarding Boko Haram in previous testimony: “This is a part of the world where we do not the largest resource footprint,” he said.
Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report.