A video shared on Twitter on Monday purports to show Nigeria's Boko Haram beheading two men — but in a first for the group, the video mimics the style and techniques used by the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group that has seized portions of Syria and Iraq.
In the 6-minute video, titled "Harvest of Spies," militants show two men identified as Dawoud Muhammad and Muhammad Awlu kneeling in front of armed, masked fighters, some clad entirely in black. The footage is heavily edited, and uses music, graphics, and special effects that bring to mind those widely deployed by the Middle Eastern militants. Boko Haram had recently announced the impending release of a series of videos.
This installment marks a change in production techniques for the Boko Haram insurgency, which had previously distributed less sophisticated videos that typically showed the group's leader, Abubakr Shekau, delivering a rambling stream of sermonizing and invective.
It's not the first time Boko Haram has been inspired by the Islamic State. After the radical Sunni group declared the establishment of a dubious "Islamic caliphate" in the areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls, Boko Haram followed suit and announced the creation of their own caliphate in their stronghold within the northeastern state of Borno.
Unlike other groups from Libya to Afghanistan, however, Abubakr Shekau's militants have not publicly declared allegiance to the Islamic State, though Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has claimed that Boko Haram is indeed allied with that group as well as al Qaeda.
Over the last year, Boko Haram fighters have killed at least 10,000 people in northeastern Nigeria and frequently conducted cross-border raids in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The group is also behind a series of mass kidnappings and bombings in the capital of Abuja and other cities across the country. The insurgency's violence has displaced at least 1.6 million people.
For all its barbarity and senseless aggression, it's unusual for Boko Haram to behead people on camera — a well-established trademark of the Islamic State. Before the latest video, the only other instance was the beheading of a Nigerian pilot who had gone missing in September, according to the AP.
Jacob Zenn, an analyst of African and Eurasian affairs at the Jamestown Foundation and an expert on Boko Haram, told VICE News from Abuja that it appeared from the video that, rather than imitating the Islamic State, Boko Haram was instead working directly with its media producers. Though no formal alliance has been publicly announced, sources that Zenn has been monitoring suggest that Boko Haram's leadership is discussing that prospect.
But while Boko Haram's latest video closely resembles those of the Islamic State, the phrase "harvest of spies" was previously used last summer by al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula.
"It could be a coincidence that they chose that meme," Zenn suggested, "or it could be that the people that produced that meme in the Arabic peninsula are now also supporting the Islamic State."
One of the captive men shown in the video is prompted to say that a police officer paid him the equivalent of $25 to recruit him to spy on the group. He adds that in exchange for information, he was told that he would be made so rich that he would never have to farm again.
The video doesn't actually show the beheadings, but cuts to what appear to be the men's decapitated bodies. VICE News could not independently verify the video's authenticity.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi