'Son' of Boko Haram's founder named jihadi head

2016-08-26 05:28
Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau. (File, AP)

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau. (File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Kano - When the Islamic State group appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the head of Boko Haram early in August, few people even recognised his name.

But to close observers of Nigerian jihadi affairs, Barnawi's promotion from relatively unknown spokesperson to leader came as no surprise.

After all, many experts say that Barnawi, born Habib Yusuf, is the 22-year-old son of Boko Haram's founder Mohammed Yusuf.

Barnawi's appointment by ISIS has deepened a rift with longtime chief Abubakar Shekau, who later released a video insisting he was in charge and vowing to fight on.

Nigeria's military claimed on Tuesday that Shekau had been wounded in an airstrike on Boko Haram's forest stronghold, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Yusuf senior died in police custody following a 2009 military crackdown on the sect in the northeastern city of Maiduguri that spurred the group to take up arms against the Nigerian government.

"Abu Musab al-Barnawi is the son of late Mohammed Yusuf," tweeted Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who specialises in covering the insurgency.

"He is the first surviving son," confirmed Fulan Nasrullah, a conflict researcher based in Nigeria, also in a Twitter post.

Shekau himself had taken Barnawi under his wing when he was still a teenager, and gave him a new Arabic name meaning "the man from Borno".

Barnawi was "like a younger brother or son to Shekau," Nasrullah said, describing him as one of the chief's two trusted right hand men.

The teenager could not have had a more fearsome mentor.

Shekau instructed him in the art of war as he transformed Boko Haram from a strict Islamic sect into a jihadist movement that laid waste to swathes of territory in the northeast.

Since 2009, the group has killed an estimated 20 000 people, prompted 2.6 million to flee their homes, and kidnapped thousands of people, including hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok in the northern state of Borno.

Secret killings

Barnawi made his first public appearance in a January 2015 video claiming responsibility for a Boko Haram attack in the northeastern town of Baga, where many civilians were massacred.

The first signs of a rift appeared after Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS in March that year and changed Boko Haram's name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

According to sources close to the jihadist group and familiar with its operations, Barnawi broke with Shekau and turned to Mamman Nur, a strategist who had served as Shekau's deputy and was a close ally and confidant of Barnawi's father.

Nur and Barnawi took fighters out of Sambisa forest to areas along Lake Chad, where the savannah grasslands meet the Sahara desert.

They openly criticised Shekau's brutal leadership style, alleging he secretly killed top militant commanders who disagreed with him.

They also blamed him for the setbacks the group had suffered since Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari came into office in 2015.

The sources close to Boko Haram say Nur turned down the official leadership of ISWAP, suggesting it go instead to his protégé while he directs from behind the scenes.

'Dictatorial tendencies'

Writing in the ISIS magazine this month, Barnawi made a pointed critique of Shekau's tenure, lambasting him for targeting "ordinary people who are attributed to Islam".

Omar Mahmood, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says the split between Shekau and Barnawi is rooted in a dispute over the definition of a Muslim and concerns about Shekau's "dictatorial tendencies".

Shekau believes that "those who are not active in opposition to non-Islamic institutions lose their status as Muslims", including "internally displaced people and refugees", Mahmood said in an August lecture posted online.

This unorthodox view has led Boko Haram to use children as suicide bombers to attack markets, mosques and bus stops.

It also explains the massive death toll inflicted by Boko Haram - higher than any other terrorist group in the world, according to a 2015 report by the New York-based Institute for Economics and Peace.

In contrast, according to Mahmood, Barnawi believes that "unless someone is taking part in an overt conspiracy against Islam they retain their Muslim status".

Shekau's reputation for secretly killing commanders who disagreed with him, rushing into action and "making up his own Qur'anic interpretations" were also a source of frustration to ISIS, said Mahmood.

The result is that ISIS "appears to have sided with Barnawi", added the researcher.

Though Buhari announced that Boko Haram was "technically defeated" in 2015, the jihadist group continues to sow terror in the Lake Chad region.

There have been unfounded reports of Shekau's death or injury in the past, but if his reported injuries turn out to be fatal, Barnawi is well-placed to consolidate his newfound position at centre stage.

Read more on:    boko haram  |  nigeria  |  east africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.