Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan (“Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa”), more commonly known as Ansaru, is an Islamist militant splinter group of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Founded during January 2012, Ansaru’s membership distanced itself from Boko Haram because of ideological differences in the interpretation of Islamic law. In addition, the formation of Ansaru is attributed to dissatisfaction with the leadership of Boko Haram under Abubakar Shekau. Ansaru seeks the re-establishment of a Muslim state similar to the historical Sokoto Caliphate founded by Usman dan Fodio in the 19th century. Ansaru has openly stated its intent to target Western nationals and interests within their areas of operation who are either directly or indirectly supporting military operations against regional and/or international Islamist militant groups. These threats have manifested in a number of kidnapping incidents targeting expatriate workers within northern Nigeria.While the group has not been responsible for a large number of attacks, its operations reach beyond Nigeria's borders. Ansaru could also extend al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's network further south, for example into Cameroon.
Differences with Boko Haram
Though both Boko Haram and Ansaru are aligned to a similar Salafist ideology, their are signifcant differences between the two groups related to targets of attacks and geographical areas of operations.
Whereas Boko Haram’s objectives tend to be geographically confined, namely the over-throw of the Nigerian government, which it accuses of incompetence, corruption and advancing the interests of the oil-rich south to the neglect of the Muslim-majority north, Ansaru’s agenda favours a wider regional focus. In a video released by the group and distributed to Agence Nouakchott Internationale (Mauritanian News Agency), on 26 November 2012, Ansaru stated that its objective was the creation of an Islamic Caliphate extending from Niger and incorporating northern Nigeria and Cameroon, in addition to defending African Muslims from alleged persecution by Western-backed governments.
Ansaru has also distanced itself from the modus operandi employed by Boko Haram, whereby civilians are targeted and killed, consequently resulting in significant civilian casualties across northern, eastern and central Nigeria. It should be noted that the formation of Ansaru followed the 20 January 2012 Boko Haram attacks in Kano that resulted in the death of approximately 185 people. Ansaru viewed this attack as being un-Islamic and undignified. In contrast, Ansaru targets remains focused on Western nationals and interests as well as Nigerain security personnel and buildings which are viewed as supportive to military operations against Islamic militant groups.
An additional difference is the nature of attacks used by the two groups. Whereas Boko Haram utilises armed assaults on communities, vehicle-borne explosive devices and suicide bombers with the intent to cause mass casualties, Ansaru uses more sophisticated tactics such as trained and coordinated militant detachment to attack secured residential compounds, detention facilities and convoys, therewith limiting casualties to specific pre-determined targets. Ansaru's operational execution of operations are similar to that of AQIM, therewith indicating an association between the two groups.
Information pertaining to Anaru's structure and leadership is unverified, but does indicate a composition of former Boko Haram commanders opposed to the Boko Haram leader Abu Shekau. Ansaru, by means of video releases, has identified its leader as Abu Usmatul al-Ansari. According to TRAC contributor Jacob Zenn this is likely to be a nom de plume, and that al-Ansari may actually be former Boko Haram commander, Mamaan Nur. However, it is also speculated that al-Ansari is an alias for Khalid al-Barnawi, a Boko Haram member with alleged ties to both AQIM, and its predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). He is accused of being the masterminded behind several kidnappings in North Africa as well as the establishment of training camps in Algeria. al-Barnawi is rumoured to currently operate in Nigeria's Kano region. Though leadership information remains unverified it does direct towards a continual connection to Boko Haram and AQIM.
Unlike Boko Haram, Ansaru believes that the killing of fellow Muslims is a “sin,” “inexcusable,” and “inhuman;” their primary reason for leaving Boko Haram. In his YouTube appearances, Khalid al Barnawi stated that the Ansaru members would never kill innocent non-Muslim civilians or non-Muslim security and police forces, unless in cases of self defense. Al Barnawi also expressed that the perceived inability of the Nigerian government to protect its Muslim citizens from becoming victims of religious violence was another important motivator in the creation of Ansaru.
Ansaru is closely tied to several militant and jihadist groups through its leader, Khalid al Barnawi. Al Barnawi’s alias Abu Ussamata al Ansary former senior Boko Haram commander in Northern Nigeria; the center of Ansaru’s operations was previously a member of AQIM where he trained militants in kidnapping tactics in Algeria. Al Barnawi was reportedly coached by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, then a senior AQIM commander now leader of Signers in Blood Battalion and Mourabitounes, on methods to effectively target foreign citizens and companies in Nigerian to expand AQIM’s influence.
Ansaru’s militants may have also been directly trained by AQIM members, according to the account of one Ansaru member who states he trained directly under the supervision of Senior AQIM commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid at AQIM camps in Algeria and Mauritania. Although Boko Haram and Ansaru are now separate groups, one member of Ansaru stated that the two organizations actively work together.
New Ansaru members are actively recruited through Islamic colleges and universities in Sudan and Nigeria, and trained in AQIM run camps in Algeria and Mauritania, according to one Ansaru member. Training for new members is intense, that in one case, two out of a group of five students died during a six month training camp administered by AQIM.
Areas of Operation
Nigeria: Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Kogi, and Bauchi States
Ansaru's attacks have consisted of raids by gunmen against hardened targets. A platoon-sized element typically assaults the compound where hostages will be abducted, or prisoners freed, before withdrawing. Explosives have not been used in Ansaru raids, except to breach barriers. Such attacks require different capabilities and preparations than Boko Haram's suicide bombings do. Ansaru's targets include state-aligned security installations in Nigeria’s major urban centres as well as military convoys, such as the 26 November 2012 attack on the headquarters of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), located in Abuja’s Apo district, by approximately 40 Ansaru militants.
In addition, Ansaru uses kidnapping as an operational tactic, with several kidnappings being linked or claimed by the group, Examples are
- Linked: May 2011: kidnapping of a British and Italian national in the city of Birnin Kebbi in the state of Kebbi state. The hostages were executed following failed international attempts to free them;
- Linked: January 2012: kidnapping of a German engineer in the city of Kano. The hostage was executed following failed international attempts to free him;
- Claimed: 19 December 2012: the French engineer, Francis Colump, employed by the French-owned energy company Vergnet, that was kidnapped from a secure compound in the town of Rimi; and
- Claimed:18 February 2013: kidnapping of seven foreign expatriate workers employed by the Lebanese-owned Setraco construction company in the Jama’are Local Government Area of Bauchi State. The hostages were executed following military operations by the Nigerian government to free the hostages.
Ansaru displayed sophistication in the execution of the last two listed kidnappings, during which a group of between 20 and 30 militants attacked secured compounds using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and high calibre rifles. In addition, Ansaru killing of hostages in response to failed security operations is similar to an AQIM counter insurgency stategy whereby killings are executed as to protect the possible identification of the kidnappers.
Video: 2013 JAMBS released a video to prove that seven construction workers abducted in Bauchi had been assassinated by the group. The group accompanied the above video video with a statement claiming that the British and the Nigerian government had tried to rescue the hostages. The British government denies the allegation claiming its planes spotted Nigeria were only engaging in transportation of Nigerian troops to Mali. Seven foreign construction workers from the UK, Lebanon, Greece and Italy were kidnapped on February 16th 2013 from a construction site in Bauchi state.
Video: 2012 Jama'at Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Introduces itself via You Tube propaganda video.
Video: 2013 News report with photo montage of Ansaru members and hostages.
Video: On December 19, 2012, approximately 30 Ansaru militants attacked the compound of a French corporation in Rimi, Katsina State and kidnapped Francis Colump, a French engineer. Ansaru released statements that blamed France for precipitating the attack by banning Muslim citizens from wearing veils in public, and for planning military intervention in the escalating crisis in Mali. Ansaru threatened to continue its attacks against French citizens unless France ended the public ban on veils.