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ISIS–West Africa



ISIS–West Africa flag
ISIS–West Africa flag

One of ISIS’s largest and most powerful regional branches, ISIS–West Africa controls broad swaths of territory and has killed or displaced thousands of people in Nigeria and neighboring countries. It formed in 2015, when ISIS publicly accepted a pledge of allegiance from the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram, establishing it as ISIS–West Africa.

ISIS–West Africa rejects national borders and seeks to discredit regional governments and eventually replace them with an ISIS-style state. It also fights against Boko Haram, which was revived in mid-2016 when some of its fighters separated from ISIS–West Africa. The group promotes sectarian violence and exploits poor economic conditions and social divisions to attract members. It receives funding from ISIS core and local revenue sources, including kidnappings-for-ransom, taxation, and extortion.

Based primarily in northeastern Nigeria, group claimed operational expansion into central and southwestern Nigerian states of Kogi, Taraba, and Kaduna by early 2022; conducts operations throughout the Lake Chad Basin region of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria

Between 4,000 to 5,000 fighters

ISIS–West Africa employs ambushes, military-style assaults, roadside bombs, kidnappings, and targeted killings. The group focuses most of its attacks on regional military targets and civilian defense forces but also frequently attacks government personnel and infrastructure, foreign aid workers, Christians, and other civilians whom it perceives as working against the group or opposing its interpretation of Islamic law. ISIS–West Africa equips its fighters with small arms, light and heavy machine guns, vehicle-mounted weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, mines, rockets, and improvised explosive devices.

The US State Department designated ISIS–West Africa as a foreign terrorist organization in February 2018. Longtime leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi and former amir Abu Abdullahi Umar al-Barnawi were named Specially Designated Global Terrorists in February 2018 and September 2019, respectively.


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Abu Musab al-Barnawi
Amir as of February 2021; longstanding group leader since pledge to ISIS in 2015

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Ba Lawan
a.k.a. Lawan Abubakar
Former amir

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Abu Abdullahi Umar al-Barnawi
a.k.a. Ba Idrissa
Former amir


5 July 2022

Kuje, Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa attacks Kuje Prison, a maximum-security prison, reportedly using firearms and bombs, freeing hundreds of inmates.

5 June 2022

Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa attacks a Catholic Church during mass, killing at least 50 people.

19 May 2021

Sambisa Forest, Borno State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa assaults Boko Haram’s stronghold, resulting in Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau committing suicide.

13 June 2020

Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa assaults a Nigerian military installation and the UN regional headquarters, destroying the UN facility, killing at least 20 soldiers, and killing or wounding hundreds of civilians.

18 November 2018

Metele, Borno State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa assaults a Nigerian military installation, killing 118 soldiers.

1 March 2018

Rann, Borno State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa assaults a Nigerian military installation and a humanitarian facility, killing dozens of military personnel and kidnapping three aid workers, two of whom the group executes.

19 February 2018

Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria

ISIS–West Africa kidnaps 110 schoolgirls.