Skip to main content

Australian National Security
You are here >> Skip breadcrumbAustralian National Security > > Terrorist organisations > > Islamic State West Africa Province

 Islamic State West Africa Province

Also known as: Islamic State in West Africa; Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – West Africa; Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – West Africa; Wilayat Gharb Afriqiyah.

This statement is based on publicly available information about Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). To the Australian Government's knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the AFP Minister must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  • is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur); or
  • advocates the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur).

Background to this listing

The first listing of ISWAP for proscription purposes was on 1 July 2017 as Islamic State in West Africa, an alias of listed terrorist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to, and was accepted as a branch of, Islamic State in March 2015 and renamed itself as ISWAP. A dispute over the leadership of ISWAP in August 2016 resulted in the emergence of two factions of the group. One faction continued to operate as ISWAP and another faction reverted to the use of Boko Haram’s formal name Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad. Although Boko Haram has not officially split from ISWAP, the groups are assessed to operate independently.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

ISWAP follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti-Western, promotes sectarian violence and targets as infidels and apostates those who do not agree with this interpretation. ISWAP rejects existing national borders and opposes elected governments, seeking to remove them through violence if necessary.

Objectives

ISWAP’s primary objective is the establishment of an Islamic state under Shariah law in Nigeria. Its secondary objective is the wider imposition of Islamic rule beyond Nigeria. ISWAP is a recognised branch of listed terrorist group Islamic State and its objectives are consistent with those of Islamic State.

ISWAP has undertaken the following to advance its ideology and achieve its objectives:

Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

ISWAP has engaged in terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. Attacks for which ISWAP can be reliably held responsible include:

  • 26 December 2019: ISWAP kidnapped and executed 11 Christians in retaliation for the killing of senior Islamic State figures.
  • 13 December 2019: ISWAP executed four Nigerian humanitarian workers kidnapped in July 2019.
  • 18 November 2018: ISWAP attacked a military base in Metele, Nigeria, killing over 40 Nigerian soldiers.
  • 30 August 2018: ISWAP killed around 30 Nigerian soldiers in an attack against a military base in Zari, Nigeria.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

ISWAP has publicly advocated the doing of terrorist attacks in order to further its objectives. Public statements in which ISWAP has advocated terrorist attacks include:

  • 15 January 2019: ISWAP issued a video showing fighters calling for Muslims to migrate and conduct jihad in its self-proclaimed state, a likely reference to violent terrorist attacks on behalf of the group given ISWAP conducts regular terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

Details of the organisation

ISWAP developed as a faction of listed terrorist organisation Boko Haram, formally named Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad. In March 2015, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to Islamic State was accepted and the group commenced operations under the name ISWAP. In August 2016, Islamic State leadership replaced Shekau with Abu Musab al-Barnawi as ISWAP’s leader following apparent internal dissatisfaction with Shekau’s leadership. Shekau disputed this decision and rejected al-Barnawi as the new leader, resulting in the development of two factions, one under al-Barnawi and one under Shekau. The faction loyal to al-Barnawi continues to operate under the name ISWAP and remains closely allied to Islamic State. The faction under Shekau reverted to operating under the name Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad and is also known as Boko Haram. ISWAP is active in north eastern Nigeria, the Lake Chad region and border regions of Niger and Cameroon.

Leadership

The leadership of ISWAP has been subject to change and the identity of any incumbent leader is uncertain. Abubakar Shekau was the first leader when ISWAP commenced operations under that name in March 2015. In August 2016, Islamic State leadership publicly replaced Shekau with Abu Musab al-Barnawi. According to media reporting, Abdullah Ibn Umar al-Barnawi assumed the leadership in March 2019, followed by Ba Lawan in February 2020.

Membership

ISWAP’s total membership is estimated to be between 3500 and 5000, with members originating chiefly from north eastern Nigeria and neighbouring regions.

Recruitment and funding

ISWAP exploits poor economic and social conditions in north eastern Nigeria and neighbouring regions to attract members. ISWAP provides protection from attacks by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad and some relief from counter-terrorism measures implemented by Nigerian authorities. Recruits are also drawn by ISWAP’s proselytisation, its ability to provide social services, and the economic prospects for its members.

ISWAP funds itself through activities such as taxation and extortion of locals, raids, and kidnap-for-ransom operations. The current state of financial ties with Islamic State or other terrorist groups is unclear.

Links to other terrorist organisations

ISWAP is an officially recognised affiliate of, and ideologically aligned with, Islamic State.

Links to Australia

There are no known links between ISWAP and Australia.

Threats to Australian interests

ISWAP has not made statements specifically threatening Australians or Australian interests; however, the group has issued statements threatening Westerners and Western interests in general.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The United States designated ISWAP as a foreign terrorist organisation in February 2018. As of November 2018, Canada referenced ISWAP as a faction of listed terrorist group Boko Haram. The United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Committee listed ISWAP as an entity subject to sanctions in the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List in February 2020. New Zealand designated ISWAP as a terrorist organisation in February 2020.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

Since it was last listed as an alias of terrorist group Boko Haram, ISWAP has not participated in peace or mediation processes with the Governments of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon or Chad.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation assesses that ISWAP is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, ISWAP is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endanger life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.