Boko Haram in Celebration? An Analysis of Four Years of Ramadan Videos (2015-2018)

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 13

2016 Ramandan video (Source: Vanguard)

Since 2015, Boko Haram has released a video each year to show the group’s sallah prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, and this year has been no exception. [1]

Under Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram has been among the most opaque jihadist groups in the world. Only one “outsider,” a Nigerian journalist named Ahmed Salkida who has reported on the group since 2005, is known to have ventured into Boko Haram territory and to have met Shekau (, April 14). This was during the negotiations for Boko Haram’s release of more than 100 of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, which Shekau approved in 2016.

Aside from Ahmed Salkida’s articles, the court testimonies of Senegalese fighters who joined Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014-2015, given during their trials in Dakar, and 18 hours of video footage from a Boko Haram videographer that was provided to Voice of America by a Nigerian military source last year have also offered some rare insights into the group (VOA, February, 2017) (Terrorism Monitor, May 4). In this context, the four videos of Boko Haram’s sallah prayers offer an additional window into the group, even though the films would have been intended for propaganda purposes.

Because all four videos from 2015 to 2018 have come from militants loyal to Abubakar Shekau, the first was in the name of Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), while the latter three were released under Boko Haram’s formal name Jamaat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Dawah wal-Jihad. Shekau was still the leader of ISWAP when the 2015 video was released. However, by the time of the release of the next three videos in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Islamic State (IS) had selected Abu Musab al-Barnawi to replace him and Shekau had reverted to leading Boko Haram.

The four videos are analyzed below.

Four Sallah Videos (2015-2018)


The 2015 sallah video features over 500 men and boys praying in rows in an open field, with one older and one younger imam leading the prayers (, July 22, 2015). A caption in the video locates the events in Sambisa Forest, Borno State, which has long been Shekau’s main base. The worshipers are surrounded by armed hisba (sharia enforcement) officials, while women can be seen walking in the background away from the praying men.

Though the video was propaganda, the worshipers, whether coerced or not, do not appear to be following any script. They can be seen slouching, tired and hot. The inclusion of late arriving worshipers and random people walking in the background suggests the video was not choreographed. One of the only “props” in the video is a gun placed near the imams.  Possibly this was only included to add effect to the filming of the prayer.

After the prayer, three militants—they appeared to be around 20 years old—are interviewed by the video team and talk about the rewards of fasting and other religious themes. The themes specific to the insurgency they mention are a call for anti-Boko Haram vigilantes to repent, an offer of greetings “to our brothers in Iraq,” and a message that “we have not been driven out of our land.” [2] The latter comment was likely in reference to the group newly being part of IS therefore emphasizing that it holds territory.


The 2016 sallah video is set in a town occupied by Boko Haram, as evidenced by the IS-style black flag seen on buildings in the background (Vanguard, September 6, 2016). The video shows hundreds of men and boys filtering into a large mosque, while a Boko Haram member carrying the black flag calls people to prayer. An imam with a sword and a security escort of uniformed hisba enters the mosque while hundreds of men and boys sit inside and outside. Among other themes, the imam discusses Boko Haram’s daular musulunci, or “Islamic State” in Hausa.

While the mosque is said in a caption to be in the “region of Shabab al-Islam” (presumably a renamed town), the following scene shows a field in the “region of Sambisa.” The imam from the mosque then appears in the field with his sword to lead a prayer as nasheeds play over the images. In the field, the imam leads a war call, after which fighters put their guns in the air and several men race horses as the audience cheers.

The imam’s sermon in the video includes a threat to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as a claim that the group’s members remain numerous and determined, despite the military campaign against them. He also voices support for Abu Muhammed bin Muhammed Abubakar ash-Shekawi—Shekau’s full name.

Notably, at around three minutes into the video, Shekau’s deputy, Man Chari, also leads prayers in the field. In addition, while it cannot be confirmed, the mosque in which the indoor prayer is held looks similar to the mosque in which Shekau infamously declared a dawla Islamiya (“Islamic State”) in August 2014 (Sahara Reporters, August 24, 2014). If so, this would indicate that the video was shot in not just any Boko Haram stronghold but its main stronghold, although that precise location is still unknown.


The 2017 sallah video also shows hundreds of men and young male worshipers in a field, but this time alongside a number of young girls dressed in abayas (long cloak-like garment) (Youtube, July 1, 2017). The girls are likely daughters of some of the worshipers. In the video, Shekau’s deputy Man Chari emerges from a forested area surrounded by his security escort to lead the prayer while nasheeds are played over the video and the IS black flag is seen planted among the worshipers. Notably, even though Boko Haram was no longer part of IS, Shekau remained publicly loyal to Abubakar al-Baghdadi.

Later in the video, several Boko Haram members are interviewed, including a group of three young fighters, a boy dressed in a sharp new uniform, and a militant who appears to be Shuaibu Moni. Moni was one of the reported Boko Haram members to have been released from prison by the Nigerian government in October 2016 in exchange for Boko Haram’s release of the first batch of Chibok schoolgirls (Sahara Reporters, March 7).

After the prayer, a militant on horseback wearing blue clothing and a green turban speaks to the camera. In addition to religious themes, the militant declares the anti-Boko Haram vigilantes to be “infidels” and tells the Nigerian public that the government “wants to kill you and make your children become orphans and turn your wives into prostitutes and just get them pregnant and keep them in the refugee camps.”

He calls on the public to “come and practice the religion. Our aim is not to kill you.” Lastly, he condemns the “idols of Nigeria” and asks: “Where is Buhari who bragged that he was going to destroy us. He cannot destroy the religion of God. Where are the likes of Bush, where are the Obamas, where are the likes of Francois Hollande? They have all tried and tried.”

Before the video ends, it cuts to a teenage fighter who also praises the virtues of fasting and claims that “we just started the battle and listen, democracy is forbidden.”


The most recent sallah video shows outdoor prayers in three areas each with what appears to be several hundred—possibly more than 1,000—men praying (SITE, June 21). The locations are reportedly around Gwoza, Borno State, near the border with Cameroon. After the prayers, the video shows several fighters and civilians happily discussing breaking their fast, with one voicing praise for Shekau. In this video, unlike in the previous two, Man Chari does not appear.


The videos offer much for analysts to consider.

First, Man Chari’s absence from the 2018 sallah video could indicate he has been killed or banished. He appeared not only in the prior two sallah videos but also in Boko Haram’s video pledge of loyalty to Abubakar al-Baghdadi in October 2015, and other sharia punishment videos before the pledge in 2014 (, October 7, 2015). In a December 2016 leaked audio, Shekau indicated he had no conflict with Man Chari but also that Man Chari had relocated to another camp (Vanguard, February 24, 2017). Considering Shekau’s whims and history of killing his commanders, it cannot be discounted that Shekau had him assassinated. However, it is also possible that Man Chari is simply laying low in the face of the military’s campaign, if not also due to pressure from Shekau.

Second, despite military pressure on Boko Haram, the fighters and civilians in the videos appear at ease. Moreover, that Man Chari could emerge so publicly in the 2016 and 2017 videos suggests Boko Haram leaders do not have nearly the same concerns about moving around in public as those of al-Qaeda in Pakistan or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). They are comfortable in their own territory. Moreover, the mingling of Boko Haram fighters with civilians shows how, at least in periods of non-combat time, Boko Haram can become part of the community. This is presumably among the ways it recruits and receives support.

Third, the quality of the 2018 video has noticeably decreased, while in 2016 and 2017 the videos were not simply better quality but more “impressive” overall, with the large prayer in the mosque and the horse racing, among other scenes. This could reflect how, since the split in ISWAP in August 2016, members are increasingly shifting towards ISWAP and away from Boko Haram. Clearly Boko Haram still holds territory and commands influence, but over time it may remain confined to the territories around Sambisa Forest, Gwoza and the Cameroonian border where its most recent sallah video was filmed, while ISWAP has more potential to expand geographically and spread its attacks, funding networks and ideological influence around the country and even further afield.



[1] The sallah of Eid al-Fitr is performed on the first day after Ramadan. Sallah literally means “worship” in Arabic.

[2] A translation of these three interviews is in Abdulbasit Kassim and Michael Nwankpa, “The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State,” Hurst, April 2018.