Jama'atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan: Nigeria’s Evolving Militant Group

The activities of militant Islamist sects in north Nigeria is now a growing source of security concern to the West. Driving much of the attention is Boko Haram's violent attacks on diverse civilian and military targets using such violent tactics like placement of explosive devices & suicide bombing.


An image grabbed on 24 December 2012 a video released by Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan, the radical Islamist group known as Ansaru, reportedly shows unidentified members of the group speaking in an undisclosed place in November 2012. The claim by the Nigerian Islamist group that it has killed seven foreign hostages seems "founded," the Italian foreign ministry said on March 10, 2013. [Source: AFP]


The activities of militant Islamist sects in northern Nigeria is now a growing source of security concern to Western capitals. Hitherto driving much of the attention is the ramping up of violent attacks on diverse civilian and military targets in Nigeria by the Jama’atu Ahlissunnah lidda’awati wal Jihad, or Boko Haram, using such violent tactics like placement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), targeted assassination, drive-by shooting and suicide bombing.

The rise of a new violent group by the name Jama'atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan (henceforth, JAMBS) or Ansaru, for short, has added another dimension to the landscape of violent extremism and terrorism unfolding largely in northern Nigeria. JAMBS is less well known than Boko Haram, but the nature and profile of its targets as well as its professed intentions makes it a sect to watch in upcoming days or months. Since its emergence, JAMBS has claimed responsibility for various acts of terrorism such as armed attack on a detention facility, ambushing of Nigerian soldiers, and strings of kidnapping of foreign expatriates. This article focuses on the emergence and violent activities of JAMBS, with a view to signposting possible future trajectories in its evolution. Given this group's increasing prowess in gun attacks and kidnappings, the Nigerian government and indeed the international community must develop a better understanding of its capabilities and reach.

Understanding JAMBS

It is pertinent at this juncture to look at the evolution of JAMBS and its philosophy. By so doing, we can better appreciate what constitutes its targets and how this might change in the future.

Emergence and Leadership

JAMBS, which roughly translates as "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa", is believed to have been founded in January 2012, in the immediate aftermath of the 20 January 2012 Boko Haram attack in the city of Kano that resulted in the death of at least 180 people, mostly Muslims. Its existence however became popular from 2 June 2012, when its self-identified leader, Abu Usmatul al-Ansari, released a video proclaiming the creation of the sect and outlining its doctrines.

Security agents and experts suspect that the name ‘Abu Usamatul Ansari’ is a pseudonym for Khalid al-Barnawi, an erstwhile leader of Boko Haram who is believed to have trained with Al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria in the mid-2000s. He is suspected to have participated in strings of AQIM-led kidnapping operations in Niger. It will be recalled that Khalid al-Barnawi was among the three leaders of Boko Haram designated as ‘global terrorists’ by the US State Department on 21 June 2012. The other two leaders were Abubakar Shekau and Abubakar Adam Kambar.[1] Beyond the name of its self-identified leader, very little is known about the sect’s organisational structure, funding streams and mode of recruitment, among others.

Origin of JAMBS: Contending Perspectives

The true origin of JAMBS is a subject of speculation, even within security and intelligence circles in Nigeria. Given this circumstance, two contending perspectives on its origin exist: the splinter and rebranded schools of thought.

The first and dominant school of thought posits that JAMBS is a splinter group or offshoot of Boko Haram. Security agents and some experts believe that the sect was created by former Boko Haram commanders who were disenchanted with the leadership style of the current spiritual leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. Recent developments indeed confirm the existence of fissure in Boko Haram.

It will be recalled that a faction of Boko Haram led by Sheikh Abu Mohammad Abdulazeez announced a ceasefire on 28 January 2013 as a precondition for talks with the Borno State government. Sheikh Abdulazeez, who claimed to be the second-in command to Abubakar Shekau, did acknowledged in his speech the existence of factions within the Boko Haram: “Of course, there is a faction within us, but the larger faction of our movement is the one in support of this ceasefire move. Moreover, once top members of our group, including Imam Abubakar Shekau, are in support of the need for ceasefire, other smaller factions can be dealt with easily.”[2]

The ceasefire announcement by the Abdulazeez-led faction was cautiously welcomed by the Nigerian government. Around the same time, another faction of Boko Haram led by Mujhadeen Marwan, who claimed also to be the second-in command to Abubakar Shekau, insisted that government must fulfil certain conditions before negotiation could begin. Shortly afterwards, yet another faction distributed leaflets carrying messages purportedly from their leader, Abubakar Shekau, which denied ever delegating anybody to discuss with the Borno State government on ceasefire.

In a rare news conference in Maiduguri on 24 February 2013, four members of Boko Haram led by Abu Mohammad Abdulazeez, again restated to journalists that its ceasefire announced in January was still in force. The Abdulazeez-led splinter group claimed that the spiritual leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, authorised the January 28 ceasefire declaration, insisting that it must be obeyed by all members and vowed to go after those perpetrating a bloody campaign.[3] The Abdulazeez-led group also stated that it had realised its goals were not achievable through violence.

The already confused situation became more complicated when surprisingly on 3 March 2013, Abubakar Shekau, the spiritual leader of Boko Haram, disclaimed the ceasefire offer by the Abdulazeez-led splinter group. In an undated video, Abubakar Shekau clarified that his group was not involved in any peace talks with the government, and even threatened to kill Abu Mohammad Abdulazeez for declaring the ceasefire.[4] No doubt the orgy of violence has continued in northeast Nigeria.

Therefore, while some analysts see JAMBS as one that is complementing the ‘struggle’ by the Boko Haram sect under Abubakar Shekau, others insist that its emergence is a clear indication of the fragmentation of the leadership of Boko Haram along conflicting ideological stands. It reflects, in part, the internal political and identity crisis that has bedevilled the sect. The overt crack within Boko Haram evident in conflicting signals from self-acclaimed top commanders of the sect makes the argument that JAMBS is one of its breakaway faction with a new brand name and philosophy most plausible.

The second school of thought dismisses the theory that JAMBS is a splinter group from Boko Haram. Instead, it contends that JAMBS is only but a rebranded or repackaged Boko Haram. This school of thought posits that the obvious decline in popularity of Boko Haram evident in growing criticisms of its barbaric killing of people both Muslims and Christians provoked a re-thinking by Boko Haram. Hence, the decision to re-brand with the hope of attracting some local support and hindering the cooperation of the people with the security agencies in routing out its members.

Concerned groups such as the Muslims Against Terror (MAT) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) are leading proponents of this perspective. The MAT, for instance, argues that “the re-branding of this terrorist cult [Boko Haram] comes amidst a successful security and public campaign against their nefarious operation, which has led to the capture of many of their tactical commanders and their sponsors”.[5] Similarly, the CAN contends that the change in name from Boko Haram to JAMBS is a ploy to elicit attention and pave way for negotiation. It tersely described the emergence of JAMBS as ‘the same finger of a leprous hand’, intent on the Islamisation of Nigeria and intimidation of Christians.[6]

If indeed JAMBS is an attempt to rebrand Boko Haram, it is certainly not a novel development. In fact, documents retrieved from the Abbottabad home of Osama Bin Laden after his was killed showed that Osama was deeply concerned by an apparent loss of support in the Muslim world for the Al Qaeda brand that he considered a major rebranding of Al Qaeda to allow it to better exploit the Arab Spring revolts.[7]

From the foregoing, it can be argued that the two perspectives though insightful in their arguments, are however reconcilable. To be sure, both perspectives differ on their account of the circumstance underpinning the emergence of JAMBS, but they are strikingly in unison on the point that the birth of JAMBS is inextricably tied to the existence of Boko Haram; whether seen as a splinter or refurbished group.

Philosophy and Ideology of JAMBS

The philosophy or ideology of JAMBS is also different from that of Boko Haram, which many believed it sprouted from. Boko Haram, for instance, considers western influence on Islamic society, particularly western education, as the basis of the religion’s weakness. Its ideology is rooted in Salafi jihadism, and driven by takfirism. Salafism, for instance, seeks to purge Islam of outside influences and strives for a return to the Islam practiced by the “pious ancestors”, that is Muhammad and the early Islamic community. Salafist Jihadism is the specific interpretation of Salafism which extols the use of violence to bring about such radical change.[8]

Adding to the Salafi Jihadi ideological strain is takfirism. At the core of takfirism is the Arabic word takfir—pronouncing an action or an individual un-Islamic.[9] Takfirism classifies all non-practising Muslims as kafirs (infidels) and calls upon its adherents to abandon existing Muslim societies, settle in isolated communities and fight all Muslim infidels.[10] Boko Haram adherents are motivated by the conviction that the Nigerian state is a cesspit of social vices, thus “the best thing for a devout Muslim to do was to ‘migrate’ from the morally bankrupt society to a secluded place and establish an ideal Islamic society devoid of political corruption and moral deprivation”.[11] Non-members were therefore considered as kuffar (disbelievers; those who deny the truth) or fasiqun (wrong-doers), making such individual or group legitimate target of attack by the sect.

JAMBS subscribed to a different philosophy or ideology. In the video of June 2012, which was made in Arabic and translated in Hausa and English, Usamatul Ansari released what best captures the sect’s philosophy. According to him, JAMBS "considers anybody that accepted the khalimatush shahada (believing in one God and Prophet Muhammad as the messenger of Allah) as a Muslim who must not be killed except he/she has committed an act that is punishable by death as stated in the holy Qur’ran. Islam forbids killing of innocent people including non-Muslims. This is our belief and we stand for it."[12]

He also claimed that JAMBS does not believe in killing innocent security operatives except if they are attacked by them or in self-defence. Ansari’s speech clearly indicated that their understanding of Jihad in Islam is different from any other group in Nigeria, such as Boko Haram, that claims to be engaged in Jihad for the sake of Allah.[13]

Thus, while the Boko Haram sect considers every non-Muslim including Christians as enemies that must be killed, JAMBS claims that it abhors the killing of innocent non-Muslims except in self-defence or if they attack Muslims. While the ultimate objective of Boko Haram is to overthrow the secular Nigerian state and impose its own interpretation of Islamic Sharia law in the country, the core objective of JAMBS is a choosen commitment to defend the interest of Islam and Muslims in Africa. Indeed, the goal of JAMBS sits perfectly well with the admonition of AQIM leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel (Abu Musab Abdel-Wudoud) to affiliate Islamists groups concerning the Islamic Jihadi Project in Azawad. A confidential letter from Droukdel to his fighters in Mali, found by the Associated Press in Timbuktu, following bombardment of the town by French forces, read in part: "At this stage you should avoid issues of takfir (i.e. accusing Muslims of being infidels) and the issue of sects and other issues that the mind of the youth cannot understand. The general logo at this stage should be defending Muslims from those who want to victimize them…"[14]

It will not be a surprise if evidence emerge in the future that JAMBS was part of the groups served this message. As elaborated further in the succeeding section, this philo-ideological commonality may well corroborate the suspicion that ‘Abu Usamatul Ansari’ is truly a pseudonym for Khalid al-Barnawi, who is believed to have ties with AQIM. More so, this could probably accounts for why some security personnel and foreigners who JAMBS sees as ‘enemies of Islam and Muslims’ in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, constitute its prime targets of attacks, at least for now.

Focused and Audacious Armed Violence

In about one year of its existence, JAMBS has mounted, and claimed responsibilities for, spectacular attacks that have unsettled security establishments, both within and outside Nigeria. Its first major attack was on 26 November 2012, when its member stormed the Special Anti-robbery Squad detention centre at Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, freeing its members and others detainees. Shortly afterward, it claimed responsibility for the attack in an email message, stating that "Allah SWT has obligated us to help those that are oppressed, especially those oppressions that is taking place in the security cells, prisons and other detention centres etc. and has become part of the main functions and basics that form Jama’atu Ansasrul Muslimina fi Biladissudan….we are stating loud and clear that many of those captured by the Nigerian security or by the Christian in Plateau state such as the women and children in Langtang, Yalwan Shandam etc to mention but a few. By Allah’s grace we are matching towards their freedom."

Part of the contents of the email message was targeted at drawing some impressionable Muslim youth into its fold, when it encouraged them to join its campaign which it described as a ‘noble duty’ that Allah has commanded them to do. By dressing its statements in messianic and redemptive garb, JAMBS wants to exploit the opportunity created by recurrent ethno-religious conflicts in some parts of northern Nigeria, especially the city of Jos, Plateau State, to radicalise and recruit some Muslim youths.

Its second attack was the kidnapping of Francis Colump, a French citizen working for the French company, Vergnet, in Katsina State in December 2012. Indeed, kidnapping for ransom is far more pervasive in southern Nigeria (particularly in the South-East and South-South zones), where some youth gangs have turned such opportunistic acts into a lucrative industry in the face of declining opportunity for legitimate livelihood. Kidnapping however is gradually percolating into northern Nigeria in a more insidious way. In particular, the abduction of foreigners by groups such as JAMBS is raising and internationalising the stake in northern Nigeria. As shown in Table 1, JAMBS has mounted and equally claimed responsibility for several other spectacular attacks.

Table 1: Attacks Blamed on JAMBS 






JAMBS claimed that the attack was in compliance with a Quranic injunction that urged believers to fight for the oppressed and the feeble. It promised similar attacks against detention centres across the country.

Attack and freeing of some inmates in the detention facility of the SARS headquarters

Headquarters of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)

Garki, Abuja

26 Nov. 2012

JAMBS claimed that the reason for kidnapping Colump is the stance of the French government and the French people on Islam, specifically citing France’s major role in the (planned) intervention in northern Mali.

Kidnapping of Francis Colump, a French citizen working for the French company, Vergnet

Francis Colump

Katsina State

19 Dec. 2012

JAMBS claimed it attacked the soldiers because of Nigeria’s contribution of troops to Mali.

Ambushing of a truck conveying Mali-bound Nigeria soldiers, resulting in the death of two soldiers and injuring of five others

Convoy of Mali-bound Nigeria soldiers

Okene, Kogi State

19 Jan. 2013

JAMBS claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, citing “the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries.

Those abducted were four Lebanese, one Briton, a Greek citizen and an Italian.

Seven expatriates working with a Lebanese construction company, Setraco Nig. Ltd

Jamaare (Bauchi state)

17 Feb. 2013

The recent kidnapping of seven foreigners on February 2013 by JAMBS is the biggest of its kind since the outbreak of violence in northern Nigeria. While claiming responsibility for the audacious attack in a signed statement on Twitter, the group justified the act thus:

Based on the transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah SWT by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali, by Allah’s grace, Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladissudan have the custody of seven persons, which include Lebanese and their European counterparts working with Setraco in Nigeria on the 8th of Rabiul Thani, 1434 equivalent of 7th February, 2013. It is stressed that any attempt or act contrary to our condition by the European nations or by the Nigerian government will lead to the happenings as it was in the previous attempt.[15]

Analysts surmised that the phrase “previous attempt” referred to was the killing of Franco Lamolinara (Italian) and Christopher Mcmanus (Briton) in Sokoto State, on March 2012, during a botched attempt by the Nigerian Forces and British Special Boat Squad to rescue them. Both hostages, who were working for an Italian construction firm, B Stabilini, in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, were taken hostage in March 2011. Intelligence and security operatives suspect that JAMBS may have been responsible for the abduction and subsequent killing of Lamolinara and Mcmanus during the failed rescue attempt. JAMBS was later placed on the UK Proscribed Terror List on 23 November 2012, for the kidnapping and killing of these Europeans while operating under the name "Al Qaeda in the Lands Beyond the Sahel."[16]

Given the known history of its suspected leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, coupled with the conduct of kidnapping operations similar to those of AQIM, some security experts believe that JAMBS has links to AQIM. Indeed, the AQIM had long nursed the ambition of expanding its jihadist tentacle into Nigeria, possibly through establishing ties with local militant Islamists sects.

For instance, in an interview with Al Jazeera on 14 June 2010, AQIM leader, Abu Musab Abdel-Wudoud, stated that his group has been talking to Boko Haram and intends to supply it with weapons to “defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders”. He further noted that al Qaeda has an interest in sub-Saharan Africa for “its strategic depth that would give it a bigger scope for manoeuvres.” Analysts with Strategic Forecasting Incorporated (Stratfor) quickly dismissed the intent of AQIM to bond with Boko Haram as mere wishful thinking or rhetoric, retorting instead that “issuing statements claiming an alliance is easier than actually creating a meaningful accord and several factors complicate AQIM’s intent to move into Nigeria”.[17] The present writer however warned that such expression of interest by AQIM “surely opens a window of opportunity that can be exploited by global jihadist to gain foothold in Nigeria”.[18] In view of JAMBS’s transnational outlook and targets (focusing mainly on kidnapping of Westerners) analysts with Stratfor have recently concluded that “it appears that the group [AQIM] has established ties with Ansaru [JAMBS] and that the tensions between national and transnational factions of B oko Haram led to the split”.[19]

Although the possible connection between JAMBS and other jihadist groups such as AQIM with strong footprints in the Sahara-Sahel region remain a subject of debate, what is less debatable is its capability to plan and execute ruthless attacks. On 9 March 2013, JAMBS released a communiqué and video claiming that it has killed the seven foreign hostages abducted from a construction site on 17 February 2013. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, Al-Qabidun ‘Ala al-Jamr (Grippers of Embers) Media Foundation, an affiliate of the Sinam al-Islam Network, issued the communiqué in Arabic and English and also provided screen captures of a forthcoming video showing the dead hostage. In the communiqué, “the group stated that the attempts by the British and Nigerian governments to rescue the hostages, and their alleged arrest and killing of people, forced it to carry out the execution”.[20] The barbaric execution killing of the hostages demonstrates the sect’s ruthless capacity to execute its threats given that it had earlier warned against attempts to rescue them. Also, it confirms that JAMBS was really the group that earlier operated as "Al Qaeda in the Lands Beyond the Sahel" given its warning that attempt to rescue the hostages will "lead to the happenings as it was in the previous attempt."

Conclusion and Prognosis

Although JAMBS had only relied on the use of explosives and firearms in its attacks as well as shunned ‘deliberately’ killing non-Muslims unless those that assisted security agencies, all these may change in the future. Such a radical shift from its original ideology and modus operandi could be brought about by either endogenous or exogenous factors, or both. The endogenous factors could possibly be the change in the leadership of the sect as a result of natural death or decapitation of its top leaders and commanders. The exogenous variable relates to developments external to the internal workings of the sect, such as aggressive crackdown on its members by Nigerian or even foreign security forces. In the event of this, JAMBS may begin to consolidate its ties with other Sahel jihadists in a bid to acquire expertise, weapons, training and funding. If it succeeds in this, the possibility of JAMBS redefining and reordering its target selection as well as employing other dramatic terror tactics such as targeted assassination, drive-by shooting and suicide bombing will increase.

The group’s name and vision clearly suggest a sect with the intention to project force and influence beyond the shores of Nigeria. In its name lies the intention to mount transnational attacks. Western interests (nationals, facilities and business investments) in countries such as Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger are chiefly at risk of JAMBS transnational foray. The 19 February 2013 kidnapping of seven members of the French Moulin-Fournier family in Dabanga, northern Cameroon, by Boko Haram could further embolden JAMBS to venture into the territories of West and Central African states to attack Western interests. Therefore, efforts must be made at the national, regional and global levels to use all means available to identify, target and prevent the spread of these jihadist movements and ideology.

A two-pronged approach will make a good start in dealing with the militants Islamist threat. The first intervention entails the deployment of national and international intelligence resources to infiltrate, decapitate and dismantle this sect, before it mutates into a more ominous and deadly jihadist movement . The other entails broad and robust socio-economic and political interventions designed to tackle conditions that foster grievances, extremist tendencies and radicalisation.

*Freedom C. Onuoha, is a Research Fellow, at the Centre for Strategic Research and Studies, National Defence College, Abuja, Nigeria.

Al Jazeera Center for Studies

Copyright © 2013, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, All rights reserved.

[1]J. Lobe, "Nigeria: Three Boko Haram leaders put on US terrorism list," Inter Press Service, 21 June 2012, http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/nigeria-three-boko-haram-leaders-put-on-u-s-terrorism-list/.

[2]N. Uwerunonye, “Boko Haram: Can they be trusted?” Tell, 11 February 2013, 42.

[3]D. Joel, “Boko Haram faction vows to fight ceasefire breakers,” The Nation, 25 February 2013, 1.

[4]M. Olugbode, “Boko Haram Leader Disowns Ceasefire,” Thisday, 3 March 2013.

[5]Muslims Against Terror, “Boko Haram Re-brands as JAMBS, Uses Desert Herald for PR,” 21 January 2013, http://muslimsagainstterror.com/boko-haram-re-brands-as-jambs-uses-desertherald-for-pr/.

[6]A. Adepegba and F. Olokor, “FG launches offensive against new terror sect, Jambs,” Punch, 5 January 2013, http://www.punchng.com/news/fg-launches-offensive-against-new-terror-sect-jambs/.

[7]J. Burke, "Osama bin Laden Considered Rebranding al-Qaida, Documents Reveal," The Guardian, 3 May 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/03/osama-bin-laden-rebranding-al-qaida.

[8]European Commission's Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation, “Radicalisation Processes Leading to Acts of Terrorism,” A Concise Report submitted to the European Commission, 15 May 2008, 6.

[9]H. Mneimneh, "Takfirism," Critical Threats, 1 October 2009, http://www.criticalthreats.org/al-qaeda/basics/takfirism.

[10]S. Shahzad, “Takfirism: A Messianic Ideology,” Le Monde Diplomatique, 3 July 2007, http://mondediplo.com/2007/07/03takfirism.

[11]O Akanji, "The politics of combating domestic terrorism in Nigeria," W Okumu, and A. Botha (eds.), Domestic terrorism in Africa: Defining, addressing and understanding its impact on human security (Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 2009), 60.

[12]T. Mamu, “Another Islamic Sect emerges…to counter Boko Haram,” Desert Herald, 2 June 2012, http://desertherald.com/?p=1526#more.

[13]S Shuaib, “New Group Emerges, Vows To Avenge Killing Of Muslims,” Leadership, 3 June 2012.

[14]“Mali-Al-Qaida’s Sahara Playbook,” Associated Press (undated), http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-manifesto.pdf.

[15]J. Ajani and S. Edeh, “Abduction of Foreigners: Security forces close in on kidnappers,” Vanguard, 24 February 2013.

[16]A. Abdulkadir, “Dead Hostages: Did AQIM kill McManus and Lamolinara?," Citizen Platform, 10 March 2012.

[17]“Nigeria: AQIM attempts to expand,” Stratfor, 15 June 2010.

[18]F.C. Onuoha, “The Audacity of the Boko Haram: Background, Analysis and Emerging Trend”, Security Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2 (2012), 143.

[19]M. Bey and S. Tack, “The Rise of a New Nigerian Militant Group”, Stratfor, 21 February, 2013.

[20]“Ansaru Islamists claim to kill 7 foreign hostages”, Vanguard, 10 March 2013.