Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which also refers to itself as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), has announced Abu Musab al-Barnawi as its new leader.
A report in the latest issue of ISIS’s weekly magazine al-Naba identified al-Barnawi, who previously served as a spokeman for Boko Haram, as its new de facto leader. al-Barnawi takes over from Abubakar Shekau who until now was regarded by ISIS as Boko Haram’s leader.
In March 2015, Boko Haram, then under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, aligned itself with the Islamic State in Syria while pledging allegiance to its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS in turn recognised Shekau’s leadership, bestowing on him the title of “Wali” or Governor of its so-called West African Province.
All of that has changed now – the latest issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine refers to al-Barnawi as referred to him as the new “Wali” in West Africa.
However, in a swift response, the BBC is reporting that Shekau has released a 10-minute audio recording in Arabic and Hausa to dismiss any talk that he has been replaced as Boko Haram’s leader. In the audio message, Shekau accused some elements within Boko Haram of working against him. He lamented the fact he had been shut out by the ISIS leadership and had not received any correspondence from them.
“I was asked to send my ideology in writing to the Caliph but it was manipulated by some people in order to achieve their own selfish interests,” he said. Shekau went further to describe the new leader, al-Barnawi and his followers as polytheists.
Before now, Shekau’s last known “public appearance” was in August 2015, when he released an audio message to debunk media claims that he was dead or had been deposed as Boko Haram’s leader.
For a long time now, there have been suggestions by intelligence experts of an apparent leadership tussle within the ranks of Boko Haram. In 2012, a splinter group of Boko Haram fighters broke away to form Ansaru. Under the guidance of its leader Khalid al-Barnawi, the group decried Boko Haram’s tactics of indiscriminately attacking Muslims as well as non-Muslims, describing it as “inhuman to the Muslim Ummah.”
Formed in 2002, Boko Haram is responsible for over 20,000 deaths in Nigeria’s northeast and has created some 2.2 million internally displaced persons inside Africa’s most populous nation. In 2015, the insurgents captured a part of Nigerian territory about the size of Virginia and declared a caliphate.
In recent months, however, Boko Haram has seen their military capabilities seriously weakened. An intensified military campaign made up of regional forces from Chad, the Niger republic, Cameroon, and Nigeria has pushed the insurgents back into its last stronghold, deep in the Sambisa forest.
In the ISIS magazine interview however, Boko Haram’s apparent new leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi promised to reclaim all “lost territory”, recruit more fighters, and re-ignite the group’s campaign of violence while promising to target only non-Muslims.