Reports suggest that Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, either declared a caliphate or announced that the group’s territorial gains have become part of a caliphate. The reports are wrong. In the video he released on August 24, following the group’s territorial gains, Shekau did not even use the word “caliphate,” let alone declare one.
Shekau released a 52-minute video following Boko Haram’s capture of the northeastern Nigerian town of Gwoza. AFP reported that Shekau had said: “Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in (the town of) Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate.” While an article published a week ago in the Long War Journal flagged this as a probable mistranslation, Shekau’s alleged declaration continues to be cited by major publications. For example, Al Arabiya published an article yesterday examining the implications of Boko Haram’s caliphate declaration, BBC cited the caliphate announcement after Boko Haram seized further territory this week, and other stories published this week further refer to the purported caliphate announcement.
All of these reports base their claim on the AFP report that Shekau had said that God had made Gwoza “part of the Islamic caliphate.” However, the U.S. government’s Open Source Center translates the statement differently, as: “Thanks be to God who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it a state among the Islamic states.” The word Shekau uses here is “state” (dawlah), not “caliphate” (khilafah). Shekau’s Arabic statement can be seen at 1:42 of this video.
Shekau did not use the word “caliphate” in his statement, much less declare one. The inaccurate reporting should be corrected.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Laura Grossman is deputy director for research.