An alarm was sounded by at least one U.S. congresswoman last September that Nigerian terror group Boko Haram could "explode any day" and become a more dire danger. Months later, some experts are warning that the African terror group is adopting tactics used by the Islamic State and could end up forging an official connection with the militant group.
In fact, CNN's Tim Lister wrote last week that there "are signs that Boko Haram — the most feared group in West Africa — may be edging toward a formal pledge of allegiance to the self-declared Caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi."
The evidence for this possibility is rooted in the tactics being used by Boko Haram, including a shift toward torturing and killing victims by relying upon stoning and beheading, the use of social media and the taking and claiming of land, among other factors, Lister explained.
But some say that the evidence continues to be somewhat murky, with allegiances not firmly or formally outlined. If, indeed, a relationship exists or is set to take form, it would mean that Boko Haram would elevate from a regional issue in Nigeria to an arm of the Islamic State, as noted by Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow John Campbell.
But while the evidence is sparse, it's not difficult to see why some fear a connection between the two terror organizations. Consider a recent tweet from a jihadist site that reportedly quoted the media arm of Boko Haram, claiming that the group is considering whether it will pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi.
Plus, there's the end times theology that Boko Haram shares with the Islamic State.
Numerous reports have also noted that the videos being put out by Boko Haram are becoming more polished, reflecting similarities to the well-produced clips that the Islamic State has traditionally produced. This was a factor that the New York Times also covered late last month, writing that these clips went from an "amateur affair" to being part of a coordinated media operation that Boko Haram unveiled back in January.
Releasing a new media outlet — complete with a new logo and Twitter account — Boko Haram also began producing what the Times called "more polished" videos that were filmed by a professional cameraman and included the Islamic State flag and battle music. These clips are reportedly then shared on social media by operatives associated with the Islamic State.
Adding to fears over a connection between the two groups are the vocal proclamations of support for the Islamic State made by radical Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last year, as TheBlaze previously reported.
The Islamic State, though, has not returned vocal support for Boko Haram, despite the groups' shared visions — a fact that Lister said might be rooted in a distrust for the Nigerian terror group or a cautious assumption that Boko Haram is not as well-organized or cohesive.
All that aside, some analysts are not convinced that a relationship has developed, with the New York Times citing Defense Intelligence Agency spokesperson James Kudla as saying that "Boko Haram has not pledged allegiance to ISIL," using an acronym for the Islamic State.
"Regarding video production values, although Boko Haram media production progressed during the past year, it is unclear how the new capabilities were developed," he said.
This file image taken from video posted by Boko Haram sympathizers made available on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2012 shows Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram. (AP Photo, File)
Campbell added that the geographic location of a caliphate would also cause a potential rift between Boko Haram and the Islamic State, specifically following Shekau's announcement of the creation of a caliphate last year.
"It is difficult to imagine that Boko Haram would accept subordination to a caliphate based in the Middle East. Islam has existed in northern Nigeria for more than a thousand years," Campbell wrote. "Boko Haram’s 'face,' Abubakar Shekau, may have announced the creation of his own caliphate, or he may simply have established an Islamic state. The evidence is inconclusive, but the distinction is important: a ‘caliphate’ would imply an institution with much broader reach than an ‘Islamic state’."
It is currently unclear how deeply — if at all — the Islamic State and Boko Haram have connected, though the prospect would create what Lister called a "marriage from hell," with the CNN analyst explaining that, at the least, Boko Haram's changing dynamics and tactics are evidence of the Islamic State's far-spanning reach.
Read more about the dilemma here.