Updated: Sep 23
Ansaru is an Islamic, Jihadist fundamentalist organisation and terrorist group which is based in the northeast of Nigeria in and around Kano State (Cook, 2013). Originally a faction of Boko Haram, the group became officially independent in 2012 after it stated that Boko Haram’s style of operations were inhumane and damaging to Muslims, and in particular “the attacks against Muslims and innocent non-Muslims” (Pantucci and Jesperson, 2015). Post-2015, the group became effectively dormant and ceased to commit attacks due to several of its members defecting and joining Boko Haram (Zenn, 2017).
History & Foundations
Although Ansaru’s origins are unclear, it is known that the group emerged as a faction of Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist organisation which launched an uprising in 2009. This initial rebellion failed and it led to Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid Barnawi – some of the members of Boko Haram who later on became leaders of Ansaru – fleeing to surrounding states where they were sheltered by ‘friendly’ al-Qaeda linked organisations such as AQIM (International Crisis Group, 2014, p27). Receiving training from AQIM and Al-Shabaab, they forged close alliances with the aforementioned groups and Abubakar Adam Kambar as well as Khalid Barnawi both gained sophisticated skills. This eventually led to the formation of Ansaru due to the disapproval of Boko Haram's insurgency effectively becoming al-Qaeda's branch in Nigeria.
Abubakar Adam Kambar was elected as the leader of Ansaru in 2012. However, when he was killed in a raid in August of 2012, Khalid Barnawi was elected to replace him and he subsequently became the group's leader (International Crisis Group, 2014, p27). In deduction from the wider electoral procedures of similar groups in the region, Barnawi was elected due to his position as the second-highest ranked person in the organisation when Kambar was killed in the 2012 raid. Following an €11 million ransom payment for French hostages which AQIM and the group had captured, Barnawi received 50 million naira as his share and he attempted to donate 40 million naira to Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram at the time. Nevertheless, this almost immediately created disagreements within Boko Haram over whether or not the money should go towards the relatives of killed fighters or towards operations (International Crisis Group, 2014, p27). Shekau and Barnawi eventually reconciled and began planning operations together, such as the raid on Lebanese-owned civil engineering company Setraco (BBC Africa, 2013).
Following several years of activity, the group held a meeting in 2015 in order to discuss whether or not the group should unite with ISIL, like Boko Haram had done. At this meeting, the group decided to remain independent, causing several members to defect to Boko Haram. This led to Ansaru becoming relatively dormant and a subsequent halt in attacks in Nigeria (Zenn, 2017). Although physically dormant, the group continued to maintain an online presence and posted messages from its telegram praising al-Qaeda leaders and also posting messages of support from members on Facebook (Zenn, 2017).
Nevertheless, in January 2020, Ansaru claimed its first operation since 2013 in which it ambushed a Nigerian military convoy, claiming to kill 22 Nigerian soldiers and destroying several armoured vehicles (Weiss, 2020). In 2022 the group also reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda in a statement which it released online, stating “Ansar al Muslimeen is active in the north of Nigeria, near the borders of Niger and Benin to the north and west” (Weiss, 2022).
Objectives & Ideology
Ansaru’s ideological position is similar to other al-Qaeda aligned groups and is more internationally orientated unlike Boko Haram's more domestic focus. The group also remained severely critical of Boko Haram's indiscriminate killing of civilians and this follows claims by Barnawi prior to his arrest (BBC Africa, 2016) that his followers, members of Ansaru, would not kill innocent non-Muslims except in “self-defence” (The Jamestown Foundation, 2012). The group also referenced the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio, and this mentioning of a famous religious figure from local history shows that the group may be using the local history to imply a claim to rulership over the area (The Jamestown Foundation, 2012).
The group, prior to its decline in 2015, was equipped with small arms much like other groups in the region and its tactics mirror other groups in the region. Its raid on the Setraco construction site, however, shows some sophistication in its operations as it launched diversionary attacks on both a prison and a police station which allowed it to raid the construction site (International Crisis Group, 2014).
Approach to Resistance
Prior to its decline, the group was violent in its pursuit of its aims. It utilised attacks against military convoys in order to eliminate those it considered opponents and its record was curiously marked by a lack of attacks on innocent civilians from the areas in which it operated. Potentially linked to its declaration that it would not kill innocent non-Muslims except in “self-defence” (The Jamestown Foundation, 2012) it has kidnapped several non-Muslims, demanding ransoms ranging into the millions of dollars. However it has performed executions on these hostages after attempts from varying governments failed to rescue them (NEWS WIRES, 2013).
International Relations & Potential Alliances
The organisation does not have many international relations and alliances. Nevertheless, due to its declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda, this could be considered as its only international alliance and the training of its former leaders, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid Barnawi, by AQIM and al-Shabaab mean that the group could have domestic alliances with other local al-Qaeda aligned groups if they pursued them. The group does have operational ties to AQIM’s Sahelian branch, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), who have provided Ansaru with small-arms which have been captured from conflicts in the Sahel (Weiss, 2022).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
BBC Africa. “Nigeria Islamists Ansaru Claim Bauchi Setraco Seizures.” BBC News, 18 Feb. 2013, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21497044.
BBC Africa . “Khalid Al-Barnawi: Nigeria Islamist Group Head ‘Arrested.’” BBC News, 3 Apr. 2016, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35956301.
Cook, David. “Boko Haram: Reversals and Retrenchment.” CTC Sentinel, vol. 6, no. 4, Apr. 2013, p. 10, web.archive.org/web/20170505015118/www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/CTCSentinel-Vol6Iss45.pdf.
International Crisis Group. Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency. 3 Apr. 2014, p. 27, web.archive.org/web/20160117095404/www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.pdf.
NEWS WIRES. “Nigerian Islamists Ansaru ‘Kill 7 Foreign Hostages.’” France 24, 9 Mar. 2013, www.france24.com/en/20130309-nigeria-islamists-ansaru-kill-foreign-hostages.
Pantucci, Raffaello, and Sasha Jesperson. The Evolution of Nigerian Jihad. Apr. 2015, p. 25, static.rusi.org/201504_op_from_boko_haram_to_ansaru.pdf.
The Jamestown Foundation. “ABU USMATUL AL-ANSARI ANNOUNCES BOKO HARAM BREAKAWAY FACTION.” The Jamestown Foundation, vol. 3, no. 6, June 2012, web.archive.org/web/20130531014141/mlm.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=39564&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=539&cHash=268f317c28e5f58115c512c17f744bd8.
Weiss, Caleb. “Ansaru Publicly Returns to Nigeria | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org, 17 Jan. 2020, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2020/01/ansaru-publicly-returns-to-nigeria.php.
---. “Ansaru Reaffirms Its Allegiance to al Qaeda | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org, 2 Jan. 2022, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2022/01/ansaru-reaffirms-its-allegiance-to-al-qaeda.php.
Zenn, Jacob. “Electronic Jihad in Nigeria: How Boko Haram Is Using Social Media.” Jamestown, 7 Dec. 2017, jamestown.org/program/electronic-jihad-nigeria-boko-haram-using-social-media/.