Abu Musab al-Barnawi

Abu Musab al-Barnawi is the ISIS-appointed leader of Boko Haram. On August 2, 2016—in the 41st issue of its al-Naba magazine—ISIS announced that al-Barnawi had assumed leadership of the Nigerian terror group.“قطـع طريـق إمـداد الرافضـة إلـى معسـكر القيارة,” al-Naba, August 2, 2016, 8, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/the-islamic-state-e2809cal-nabacc84_-newsletter-4122.pdf. Two days after the announcement, Boko Haram’s long-time leader Abubakar Shekau released an audio message denying the leadership change. Shekau reportedly referred to ISIS’s announcement as a coup, and claimed that ISIS had not responded to messages warning that al-Barnawi was an “infidel” teaching “false creeds.”Associated Press, “Abubakar Shekau says he still leads Boko Haram,” USA Today, August 4, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/08/04/shekau-boko-haram-islamic-state/88071714/;
“Isis tries to impose new leader on Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Guardian (London), August 4, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/05/isis-tries-to-impose-new-leader-on-boko-haram-in-nigeria.

Al-Barnawi is believed to be the son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf. He previously served as the group’s spokesman, but reportedly defected in 2013 and joined Ansaru, Boko Haram’s dissident offshoot.Ludovica Iaccino, “Boko Haram splits as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi fight for leadership,” International Business Times, August 4, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/boko-haram-splits-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-fight-leadership-1574271. Ansaru split from Boko Haram in 2012 because it reportedly disagreed with the group’s indiscriminate killing of Muslim civilians.“Boko Haram: Splinter group, Ansaru emerges,” Vanguard (Lagos), February 1, 2012, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/02/boko-haram-splinter-group-ansaru-emerges;
Ludovica Iaccino, “Boko Haram splits as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi fight for leadership,” International Business Times, August 4, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/boko-haram-splits-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-fight-leadership-1574271.
However, Ansaru and Boko Haram have worked together “towards a common goal,” according to security analyst David Otto.Ludovica Iaccino, “Boko Haram splits as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi fight for leadership,” nternational Business Times, August 4, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/boko-haram-splits-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-fight-leadership-1574271. In January 2015, al-Barnawi appeared in a Boko Haram video as the group’s spokesman,Agence France-Presse, “IS welcomes Boko Haram allegiance: tape,” Yahoo News, March 12, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/accepts-allegiance-nigeria-jihadists-boko-haram-201513146.html. indicating cooperation between the two groups.

In ISIS’s August 2016 article announcing Boko Haram’s new leadership, the newly elevated al-Barnawi reportedly threatened West African countries and referred to them as “crusaders.”“Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader,” BBC News, August 3, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36963711. He said that Boko Haram would cease attacks on mosques and markets, but that the group would target churches and murder Christians.Ludovica Iaccino, “Boko Haram splits as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi fight for leadership,” International Business Times, August 4, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/boko-haram-splits-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-fight-leadership-1574271. ISIS made no mention of Abubakar Shekau in its announcement regarding al-Barnawi.“Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader,” BBC News, August 3, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36963711;
“قطـع طريـق إمـداد الرافضـة إلـى معسـكر القيارة,” al-Naba, August 2, 2016, 8, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/the-islamic-state-e2809cal-nabacc84_-newsletter-4122.pdf.

On March 4, 2019, Boko Haram announced that al-Barnawi was demoted to a member of the group’s Shura council, and that Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar al-Barnawi (a.k.a. Ba Idrissa) replaced him as leader.Jacob Zenn, “Who is the Leader of ISWAP? – Confusion Continues Over Leadership of Islamic State in West Africa Province,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor 10, no. 10, November 4, 2019, https://jamestown.org/brief/who-is-the-leader-of-iswap-confusion-continues-over-leadership-of-islamic-state-in-west-africa-province/. The specific reason for this leadership shake-up is unknown, but it occurred against the backdrop of larger internal disputes within the organization. In early 2020, infighting within Boko Haram continued, and al-Barnawi’s successor Ba Idrissa was similarly purged. It is currently unclear if al-Barnawi survived the infighting and if he is currently alive.Jacob Zenn, “Islamic State in West Africa Province’s Factional Disputes and the Battle With Boko Haram,” The Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 18, no. 6, March 20, 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/islamic-state-in-west-africa-provinces-factional-disputes-and-the-battle-with-boko-haram/.

 
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