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Boko Haram: Al-Barnawi loses leadership to Abu Abdullah

West & Central Africa

Boko Haram: Al-Barnawi loses leadership to Abu Abdullah

Report by Hassan John

The ISIS backed faction of Boko Haram Islamic terrorist Jihadi group, Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), which is still holding captive, Leah Sharibu, the Christian girl who will not convert to Islam, has sacked its leader Abu Mus’ab HabibAlbarnawi, the son of Yusuf Mohammed, the founder of the Jihadi group.

Different sources with contact to the terrorist sect say Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar Albarnawi, has been named as the new leader. “The new Wali, according to an 18:13 (minutes) audio recording, is Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar Al-barnawi,” Ahmad Salkida, a journalist known to have access to the leadership of the group, said on his twitter handle.

“If the information turns out to be true, it will have far-reaching implications and raise a lot of questions, including the fate of Al-Barnawi,” one of the sources told AFP. “The big question is, where is Al-Barnawi? Is he alive or is he dead? Knowing how Boko Haram operates, it is unlikely for a leader to be deposed and allowed to move freely.” 

Another source said the change in leadership was possibly due to the seeming reluctance shown by Al Barnawi in carrying out the jihad of consistent attack and expanding the mission of establishing a ‘caliphate’ to institute an Islamic government in Nigeria. Another probable allegation was that Al Barnawi was helping himself to the ransom allegedly paid for the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls in February last year thereby shortchanging the group of the needed cash for operations.

Al Barnawi, who was installed and backed by ISIS’ Abubakr al-Baghdadi from Syria, had split from Jama’atul Ahlis Sunnah Ladda’awatih wal-Jihad, popularly called the Boko Haram under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau in 2016 on the grounds that Shekau’s indiscriminate attacks and killings also affected civilian Muslims.

Shekau and and Boko Haran fighters / Image: Screen-grab of Boko Haram propaganda video

The young Al-Barnawi even then was only a figurehead with Mamman Nur, who was the mastermind the bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja in 2011, as the main leader. Nur was however killed in August 2018 in a leadership feud and since then, Al-Barnawi has leant to survive “on the fringes, careful not to cross the path of the new leadership and earn their wrath,” a second source, who cannot be named for security reason, said. What is not clear, however, is if Al Barnawi is still alive.

In 2018 ISWAP intensified its attacks on Nigeria’s army and military bases in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, restocking its arsenal with arms and ammunition from their attacks and inflicting damage on the Nigerian troops. Towards the end of the year, the attack in Rann killed about 200 soldiers and, on February 23, this year, the day of presidential elections, the Boko Haram sect fired rockets in Maiduguri capital of Borno State to disrupt the elections. 

Analysts say with the decimation of ISIS in Syria and the disappearance of Al Bagdadi, it would seem that Al Barnawi has lost whatever godfather or support he had and this could also be “an indication that IS doesn’t have the kind of tight control on ISWAP, as many are suggesting, especially since the death of Mamman Nur,” another expert said. This could have given room for the overthrow of Al Barnawi. It is also possible that the increase in intensity of the attacks by Boko Haram in the past few moths was a a result of this change in leadership.